Older women still feel sexual urges
Essay: Older, bolder & better
It wasn't all that long ago that women of a certain age accepted, often happily and relieved, their status beyond sexuality. They had good advice on hand for the younger generation, they taught table manners, they taught how to dance the waltz (or Charleston) and how to write condolences - these women were the crucial conveyors of social knowledge. It was obvious that they would never try to snatch your boyfriend from you. They were behind them.
My grandmother was in her late fifties when I was born. Raised in Russia and England, she was a remarkable beauty in her youth. Later, as she got older, she preferred black velvet suits with white silk blouses - with pearl necklaces, white gloves and comfortable, black shoes with not too high heels. She hardly ever wore any color or make-up, with the exception of a touch of pink on her lips when she went to the New York Philharmonic or to dinner. She dressed in the elegant way that women who accept their age dress. Her time of flirting was over, and her clothes expressed that: I'm a lady, I'm a grandmother - and I love it. Her calm, her courteous manner and her motherly self-image gave me and my sisters a feeling of security. She never competed with us when we were growing up: when guys called us at home or came to pick us up, it never upset her.
Our mother flirted with passion and stylized her demeanor. She didn't store her designer clothes in her closet until she was around 90 when she exchanged them for nightgowns and caftans. Our grandmother was solid.
Think of the aging courtesans in Colette's books, such as Léa in the novel “Chéris Ende” or the grandmother in “Gigi”: These women were not asexual - they just had it behind them and were happy about it. This gave them time to raise the younger generation. Of all women writers, Colette understood the transition from sensual to grandmotherly teacher best. Léa is still sexually active when she takes a boy whom she calls Chéri as a lover. He's willing and tireless in bed, he's 19 and a walking constant erection - but that doesn't really matter. It is important that he loves his aging "Nounoune" (as he calls it from childhood) and that it means life itself to him.
Léa, half mother, half lover, knows that Chéri will - sooner rather than later - marry a girl his age and then she will have to let him go. But until then she savored life with him to the fullest, and Chéri, in turn, enjoys her tenderness as much as the sex - which is never explicitly mentioned in the book, but is clearly present. He loves to wear Léa's pearls on his naked body, he is a lean, muscular hunk in bed with an aging Aphrodite.
Léa is 49. She wears pink headscarves, wraps translucent fabrics around her wrinkled neck and adorns her bedroom with pink silks - although such decorations are no longer in fashion. She is a woman in her prime and she knows what she knows. She is either perfectly dressed or completely naked - nothing in between.
In “Chéris Ende”, Chéri marries the girl who suits him in terms of age - and becomes unhappy with her. She has no idea of his needs, she is conceited and stupid, she does not spoil or satisfy him like his nouns. Chéri tries to return to his aging Aphrodite (and does so for a short time). Léa ends the affair. She knows: Chéri must finally grow up. She cuts her hair, becomes fat and wears plain, tent-like clothing. When Chéri sees her again, he is horrified. The reader knows, however, that Léa does not renounce sex and love because of her advanced age, but because she wants to turn Chéri into a man - by no longer mothering him.
Now to the present. Colette is a thing of the past (she died in 1954) and the baby boomer generation is starting to turn gray as well. I'm reading an amusing book by Jane Juska, who is now in her seventies. “Before I turn 67 ...” tells the story of a woman around 60, whose grown son has left the house and who has retired as a teacher. She decides to have sex again after years of abstinence.
I think Juska is good. Anthony Trollope is her favorite writer; she writes with a light, ironic hand and can tell stories about herself - the hallmark of every good writer. And luckily, she doesn't take herself too seriously.
In her life she had to deal with a lot of misfortune: Her first marriage ended in disaster, she adores her son from this marriage. Juska had a long medical history - morbid obesity, starvation diets, denial of her sexuality.
She finds her salvation in the life of the soul - the right therapist comes at exactly the right time when she is ready for change. And she decides to have sex again before it's too late. She turns to the “New York Review of Books” instead of the Internet (where else to?) And places a personal ad: “Before I turn 67 - next March - I want to have sex with a man I like. In case you want to talk first, Anthony Trollope is my favorite author. Code 10307. "
She describes what happens afterwards: the selection procedures, the meetings, the fear, the disappointments; the rivets and the nice men she meets after avoiding the world of sensuality after having lived almost without sex for more than 40 years. What a brave woman to get involved in something like this at 67! I think of my own affairs, between my marriages, at the ages of 23, 39 and 47; and how sexual mores had completely changed every time I was single again. I would like to pay tribute to Juska for her courage. To date again at 67, to show yourself naked in front of a stranger at 67! How brave! She must have good nerves! Or also: how stupid! And then she also writes about it! It takes courage! I admire things like that far more than deliberation and repression. Courage sets the world in motion.
Juska is taking risks for the first time. She becomes a source of inspiration for her friends by meeting the various cipher-interested parties. She has guts and she seeks self-knowledge. She is a teacher who teaches herself. She believes, as I do, that life without self-exploration is not worth living.
Where do we learn more than in bed? In bed we learn what we are afraid of, what makes us happy. The bed is where we find out who we are. Juska is a teacher and the bed becomes her classroom; she learns and she teaches. What she finally knows is similar to what I learned in my eight and a half years of single life, between my third and fourth marriage: Men are not the enemy. They are just as afraid as we are, maybe even more; Sex only works if one is both a friend and an object of pleasure for the other at the same time; Men can be fun and enrich a woman's life.
But they are not absolutely necessary. Girlfriends are necessary. You could say: Men are not the main course, but the dessert, while friends and children are the main meal. Men consider themselves important - beautiful for them! For women, wisdom means knowing that you can take care of yourself - with the help of trusted friends, with the help of children and grandchildren (even if they are naturally preoccupied with themselves). I've read more than one tearful article lately by men complaining about how independent women have become. These men complain in amazement that the new woman does not need security, likes to sleep alone, values her privacy and enjoys the opportunity to shape her own life - and still wants men for friendship and sex. She refuses to be loyal to a certain partner and does not compromise on her financial independence, children or the design of her home. She likes men, but doesn't want to be dominated by anyone. Men seem extremely irritable and baffled to react to this new independence. “Women behave like us men in the past!” They complain. “That is not fair!” Today, men act like women of yore - they try to force their friends into monogamy by marrying them. These men cook for their wives, pamper them, try to force them into partnerships in order to get their wives not to sleep with other men. But the new woman doesn't want that. She defends her freedom. She does want a man in her bed - for a few nights a week; but it's perfectly fine for her to let him go after she's slept with him. What a wonderful new world such women live in!
Juska's story is certainly not unique. Postmenopausal women now go back to bed without wanting to commit themselves. For example Erica Barry, played by the wonderful Diane Keaton in "Something’s Gotta Give". Barry is a wealthy playwright who falls (incomprehensibly to me) in love with her daughter's boyfriend, played by Jack Nicholson. The attraction of this lover is that he takes Viagra like candy, suffers heart attack after heart attack and, curiously, is attractive to women over 30. I found this character quite repulsive, aside from Nicholson's eyebrow play; I would have chosen the young doctor played by Keanu Reeves. Keaton's acting is a miracle. She also looks great (even though she was born in 1946) - and judging by the talk that led to her appearance in this movie, you'd think she'd be Methuselem's age at 58. Keaton's outfit is just as bizarre. She plays a woman who apparently fears that her head will fall off her neck if she slipped out of her turtleneck sweater. Wrapped in white cotton up to her chin, she appears right at the beginning of the film like a nun of some strange order. In a later shot, she takes off her armor and appears briefly naked, to which the critics reacted as if Keaton had invented a cure for cancer in this scene. Is the meat of those over 50 so unacceptable that we should never take off our armor? The film finally shows, as it was read in reviews, that older women would also experience sexual pleasure - I found it full of unconscious misogyny.
That brings us to the film "The Mother", in which Anne Reid plays a widow who believes that she will never be touched by anyone again - except by an undertaker. "The Mother" is a far more subtle, heart-touching film. We observe May, an aging housewife, who is on her way to London with her grown-up children. During the visit, her husband has a heart attack. After his death, May wants to return home, but she realizes that she doesn't want to waste time in front of the TV like her friends and just want to wait to get to the old people's home. She decides to stay with her children and settle down in the cool, unfamiliar atmosphere of their apartments. Paula, her daughter, is having an affair with a carpenter named Darren.
Darren is one of those drifters that women of all ages are erotically attracted to - his anger at the world and women is hidden behind tenderness and his abilities in bed. May, himself most of all surprised, kisses him and then invites him to the "guest room" - where things get very heated. Paula, on the other hand, cannot imagine that her mother has needs of her own - for the daughter, May can only be imagined as a babysitter, cleaning assistant and emotional rubbish dump. At least until she realizes that her mother is having sex with Darren - whereupon she gives May a black eye.
Even more shocking than the sexuality between a 60-year-old woman and a man around 30 - an incident that is probably as old as human civilization - is the depravity of the unsolved mother-daughter conflict. May is a woman who sacrificed her life to her husband and children simply because it “should be”. She has never tried to figure out who she really wanted to be - drawing, writing, and her young lover are her first hesitant attempts to get to know herself. Darren may be full of anger, but it brings fleeting joys and a new self-image to May as someone who does not live in family slavery.
The actor Daniel Craig gives the carpenter Darren an irresistible charisma. With his incurable self-hatred, he also reminds me of a man with whom I spent far too much time at a certain phase of my life. He was my lover, roommate, dependent on me. The sexual tension never let up, but my patience with him did - especially when he began to sneak into other women's beds. When I kicked him out, he left his dumbbells, cameras, books, and glossy magazines in my attic.
He then turned up again later, after a failed marriage and as the father of two sons. He probably brought her to me in the hope that I would take her in as I had taken him back then. Apparently he could only see me as a nurse or as a sex object - the two cute boys, he hoped, would warm my heart. It was a little sad, but I sent him and his children away again.
Why do postmenopausal women have sex in books, movies, and TV? Therefore: The baby boomers have always expected a lot from the world. Why should they give up the health benefits of sex because of a few wrinkles? The members of this generation always went their own way: in the sixties they left the law behind them - and now they don't see why they should keep quiet just because they are 60. Is sex to them like a burst of vitamins - something consumed to increase life expectancy? We know that couples live longer than singles. We also know that our generation has succumbed to the health craze. Why should we give up intimacy and sexuality just because our children are shocked that we still need sex? Mind your own business! We will continue on our way until we are carried out feet first.
Is it a new development that older women enjoy sex more, a trend that results from an aging society? Will we be able to watch the elderly adopt all sorts of youthful behaviors, from rollerblading to composing love songs? I think so. Our children will have to get used to the idea that they cannot hog the market for lust and love for themselves. It won't be easy: They want us as nice old grandmothers who take care of their babies for free, they don't want to catch us with a Darren in the next room. Not only does it shock her. It narrows their way of life.
Evolution dictates that we step aside and help raise the next generation instead of pursuing our own adventures. Our adventures do not result in new pregnancies, rather we have to do justice to our children - grandparents have always been important as guardians and teachers. Because children take so long to be independent, social cohesion is important for their upbringing - and we, the grandparents, are that community. Should we have extramarital intercourse in the "guest room" when the little ones need us? Of course not. But most of us do not live in large families with children and therefore do not need to flee to cheap motels with their lovers. Just as we fled from our parents at the time, we now have to run away from our children and fake pottery classes, shopping or doctor's appointments.
We may be liberal, but our children are not. They have suffered from our chaos and divorces, and as a generation they are far more stuffy than we ever were. They want weddings held in white dresses, diamond rings, and eternal happiness. All the best and much, good luck! But we want, as a holdover from the seventies, a touch of Woodstock even in old age. We will have to hide our lives from our descendants at the same time. We know this. Fortunately we have our own stalls.
Will sex ever be free from secrecy and repression? We think we're oh so liberal and liberated, but now we catch ourselves pushing around and deceiving our children.
Our children believe that they have sex to themselves - let's let them believe. You don't want to imagine grandmother in a hotel room, one delicate afternoon a week. Perhaps this is why there have never been honest and frank discussions about post menopausal sex. You whisper about it with close friends, the topic doesn't seem to fit into a family newspaper at all. Nobody wants to publicly admit that sex has no age limit - maybe this is also a question of oedipal oppression.
Children hate the thought of their parents having sex.
Be that as it may, for the parents the sexual urge may be a response to many things, the physical desire will play less of a role than the nearness of death. Sex is a way to convince yourself that you are still alive. I think of all the fine old men - poets, writers, professors - who came after me when I was 22 and wearing a miniskirt: I felt sorry for their amorous zeal that I couldn't share. Today I understand their desperation - they were looking for confirmation that they were still part of life, they wanted to make sure that the angel of death had not yet come too close to them; they believed they heard its dark wings flap over their heads and hoped my youth could protect them.
Sex is an extremely important driver for humans: Sex can convince us that we can still feel. Sex can fill us with hope. Sex can invigorate the mind and senses. If we define sex more generously than just intercourse, as D. H. Lawrence did, we discover that sex is a secret key to learning about the world. Sex is universal curiosity, the urge to reach out and give ourselves to others; but also the need to open up to others.
No wonder we learn so much from sex. If only we allow ourselves to see sex as more than a means of reproduction, we can get an idea of its enormous power. Tantra followers find union with God in their sexual meditations: they use their bodies to leave the body behind. We can rediscover this sexual experience at any point in our lives - the truth is, we may be better at it if it isn't just hormones that guide us. The Greeks knew that Eros and Aphrodite ruled over the other gods. Perhaps it is time to rediscover their wisdom.
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