Our culture holds the misconception that as women age, our sexuality fades, if not disappears altogether. And there has long been an even more pervasive myth that women generally have responsive desire to sex, rather than spontaneous desire. What does this mean? The myth is essentially that women require an external stimulus to get "in the mood" and tend not to feel turned on spontaneously on their own accord.
Obviously such perceptions are now regularly challenged, but there are still some myths to bust around women and sexuality, especially when it comes to the question of aging. Too many of us think that sex stops in our 50s. This makes the new research — that some women over 60 years old desire sex more than in their younger years — breakthrough material.
In a recent study, 43 partnered Australian women were interviewed about their sex lives. Granted, this is a very small sample size, but at least it's a start. A central point here is that talking to women in their 60s and 70s about sex is relatively untapped research territory, but is now on the rise. Importantly, the interviews did not focus on penetrative sex alone, but sexual activity in general.
Part of the reason for this importance is that our culture dwells on penetrative sex as the be all and end all — for people of all ages. But the effects of aging on erections and vaginal lubrication have tended to dominate our beliefs about sex in mature people. And it is this kind of binary thinking that contributes to the social belief that those over a certain age are asexual, or tending toward apathy in their sex lives.
It should be noted that in this particular study, many participants labeled their relationships as sexless because there was no penetrative sex involved. However, upon further investigation by the researchers, it was discovered that sexual intimacy was still present. Using the research findings as a baseline, here are some useful reminders to help older women tap into their sexuality.
1. They enjoy a more expansive sense of time and space.
Getting older means that the pressures of raising a young family, supporting a household and worrying about pregnancy are reduced. This time allows for a more relaxed disposition in general, which makes focusing on sexuality easier. This study revealed that though some women over 55 desire sex, they still feel constrained by social norms around sexuality when aging.
With that in mind, it's important for older couples to make the most of downtime. It may take a concerted effort — perhaps even involving scheduling and more mindful communication with your partner — but recognizing the newfound freedom of this later developmental time in adulthood is a great opportunity to enjoy your sexuality.
2. They can revel in self-awareness.
Many women state that as they get older they know their bodies more intimately and feel more confident in understanding their pleasure. Exploring this dynamic in a sexual manner can create a new template for pleasure. Accessing a new, higher level of confidence gives us permission to ask for what we want and offer what we desire. Enjoy this, and enjoy your expanding knowledge of your sexuality.
3. They have more nuanced and expansive ideas about sex.
One possible reason for this increase in desire is that as we age is that the pressure for sex is removed. One participant in the Australian study commented that it was "safer" to have a cuddle with her partner, because there was no pressure to have sex afterward, which allowed her to respond in a more authentic — and thus authentically sensual — manner.
This shows how the pressure for penetrative sex that some younger women may feel can at times hinder their desire for other forms of intimacy. Exploring the intimacy continuum can expand sexual pleasure dramatically for women — and men!
There is much to be learned from this study. First, older women may feel entitled to the time and space to get to know their bodies. Also, their definitions of sexual activity are expanded and explored as a journey rather than a destination, and that sexual activity runs along a continuum from cuddles to penetration and everything in between.
Another huge take away from this study is that mature women require resources that openly discuss their age-related changes (especially those related to sexuality). As a culture, for young and older alike, we ought to let go of this attachment to the notion that sex equals intercourse. From there, we can learn to talk more openly about sex as we age, and women can feel more at ease to explore their sexuality.