The golden age of Sex
Their bodies aren't what they used to be, they're in long-term relationships, and many of them have had a baby or two. So why are Britain's over-40 women having more fun in bed than the rest of us? And what can we learn from them? Tania Glyde reveals all
Wednesday 07 September 2005
I know I'm not alone in admitting that I was delighted to kiss my twenties goodbye. My memories principally consist of reeling from various bouts of emotional hit-and-run, bizarre and embarrassing trips to A&E, ludicrous career mistakes, and savage awakenings from long-term friendships gone horribly sour. And the sex? If I hadn't been so drunk most of the time I might be able to tell you. Things could only get better, and they did.
Having now reached the quality end of my thirties, I now discover that I've got even more to look forward to. Thanks to an extensive survey by Health Plus magazine, my anecdotal suspicions are confirmed: women in their forties are having better sex than ever. Of the 2,000 women spoken to, a whopping 77 per cent said that their sex lives are better in their fifth decade than they've ever been, and nearly the same number feel more adventurous in bed than before. Vesuvius erupts!
These decades are worth looking at in more detail. For example, I now understand why all those famous and/or powerful older men have girlfriends in their twenties. Aside from the obvious trophy-factor, it's because women over 30 Know Too Much, and make this clear very early on in a relationship. We're still stinging from our learning zone, and are dead keen to show how tough we've become. It's only when we hit our forties (and over) that we relax a bit and put our politics back in the fridge for a while. Plus, we'll either have had children already, or will have decided not to. So that's one more source of aggro and "choice trauma" ticked off the list.
I can safely say that plenty of "older" women I know are having a good time, and it's not just the single ones, either. Three-quarters of the survey's respondents reported that their sex lives were "good", and that included, apparently, those who were married. This may come as a surprise to some, and just to balance all the good news for a minute, I've noticed that some women have become a lot more secretive about what they get up to with their men. I miss the days of the good old anatomically detailed rant, which was once guaranteed the moment the second bottle came out. Whether this means they're having bad sex, or none at all, can only be guessed at without a cunning interrogation. One clue is the noted increase in cases of STIs among older women. This is not good, partly because the only time a lady of a certain age should be seen wearing stirrups is when she's mounted on a horse.
From statistics to the frontline. For the past two years I've been a judge for the Erotic Awards, a yearly event that celebrates sex and sexuality in all its forms. Finalists are nominated in a number of categories, from writer to sex worker to performer, and there's a vote for the winners just before the event.
This isn't some branded rave, run by cynical young trendies and sponsored by the latest foul alcoholic mutation; the whole thing is presided over by the seasoned campaigner Dr Tuppy Owens, who turned 60 last year, and a merry band of free-thinking persons, many of whom are well over 35. In fact, one of the past finalists was a stripper who went by the name of "Fabulous At Forty". She was also a complete novice at the time but, if I remember right, decided to go pro not long after. Being 40 put her somewhere in the middle of the crowd, age-wise. Men and women of all ages travel from miles around for this party, also known as The Night of the Senses, because they know that whatever they feel like doing, or wearing, will be accepted, and no one is going to point the finger at them because of their age or physical appearance.
Back in the daylight world, however, accepting ourselves is harder, despite the survey's assertion that two-thirds of the respondents were more confident about their bodies than they'd ever been.
The body plays cruel tricks as you get older. This is probably why I've been avoiding wearing my glasses anywhere but in front of the computer. Earlier this year, however, I finally got bored of self-destructive paranoia and decided it was time find out the truth once and for all. So I took a set of naked portraits of myself. It was just 39-year-old me, the camera and the mirror, and OK, the blinds were down, but the results really weren't bad at all. I feel almost guilty saying this, given that society's greatest taboo these days, far worse even than incest or Holocaust denial, is contentment with what you've got. Maybe other grown women are also realising the stupidity of that.
The celebration of youthful sexuality is not perverse in itself, but its manifestation in today's world is nothing short of sinister and, above all, divisive. It's also quite boring; a lot more of us vintage birds go on about toy boys than can ever actually be bothered to cop off with them. And I'm wondering, hopefully, whether women aged 40-plus are more impervious to the plastic surgery boom than their younger counterparts, which is why they are enjoying themselves more. When an increasing number of college girls are apparently so desperate to get chopped about, I must cast some doubt on their ability to survive as doctors, lawyers or businesswomen, let alone enjoy actual sex. New boobs as a graduation present? I suppose it's an investment of sorts, although the surgeon will be reaping the bulk of the rewards. This is not to be too snide, as I was once that insecure girl - terrified, when I first moved into a (mixed) student building, that no one would like me if they saw me without make-up. Thank God that, back then, plastic surgery was only for the ultra-rich or the genuinely afflicted.
The older you get, the more conformist younger people seem to become, whether in their politics or their clothes. The "binge-drinking and bed-hopping twenty-somethings" scathingly referred to by Health Plus's editor Colette Harris, aren't fooling anyone. And the levels of teenage pregnancy show that girls still aren't being taught to respect themselves and make demands of boys equal to the demands the boys are making of them. I am so unbelievably glad that I'm not 15 any more.
But what about forty-something men? How are they dealing with this rampant, cosmic she-force that is threatening to engulf them, when they were secretly hoping to get some more gardening in? A father of two once told me that, as men get older they divide into two camps. There are those who settle down, waking up every so often to find that they haven't had any sex in months, and there are the greying pathological Casanovas who never stop seducing girls and flinging them aside.
Faced with these choices, if we are honest with ourselves, I suspect that the sexual future of the forty-something woman involves having more than one partner at all times. As I've still got a year to go, I'll just call that a hunch for now.
Tania Glyde presents 'Midnight Sex Talk' on Resonance 104.4 FM every other Sunday, and on the internet at resonancefm.com
Do you need to improve your sex life?
Do you keep running out of condoms?
Has your partner been advised to take zinc supplements after admitting to the doctor that he has more than three ejaculations per day?
Do you feel tired, but happy and quite smug, when you get to work in the mornings?
Can you get both legs behind the back of your neck, even though you failed gymnastics at school?
Has your partner finally abandoned pornography, citing its tameness and lack of availability as the reason?
Mostly yes - Congratulations! You're sorted.
Mostly no - Congratulations! You're normal.
* Never, ever, however lonely you're feeling, go out with someone you feel uncomfortable with, just to say you've got a date, or, heaven forefend, go on to have a relationship with them, just so you can say you're not single. The sex will be rubbish, unless you are a very special kind of masochist.
* Do not bang on about how desperate you are to get pregnant. There are agencies for that sort of thing. If there is the merest hint that you are hunting for spare sperm, he will leg it.
* Don't wear a thong. Cheesewire is not sexy, and they can give you nasty medical conditions. Best to go without underwear at all.
* Don't be afraid to take charge in bed, and make sure you are having safe sex.
* That said, don't feel you have to put on a performance every time, because that can be bloody exhausting, and the guy will keep upping the ante on you until you feel obliged to attend circus training.
67% say the best sex they've had is with their husband
77% enjoy sex more than when they were younger
45% want more sex than ever before
66% feel more confident about their bodies
82% say sex is as important as it was in their 20s
69% feel more adventurous in bed
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