The No. 1 Barrier To Good Sex For Women Over 50 — And How To Overcome It
There is absolutely no reason you can't be having great sex in your 50s, 60s, 70s—and beyond. But there's one big obstacle that continues to stop an overwhelming number of women over 50 from having great sex in the second half of their life: body shame.
Body image issues affect women at any age, but they can strike in a surprising, yet acute, way over 50.
Why not feeling sexy has such an impact.
Women worry about whether their bodies are good enough from a young age. Many continue to beat themselves up about not being perfect throughout their lives. I interviewed hundreds of women for my recent book, Great Sex Starts at 50, and asked them how they felt about their bodies. It was a rare woman who said she was happy with it.
Because of the society we live in, women have a lot of pressure to look a certain way: young, slim, wrinkle-free, and the like. But it doesn't do us any favors thinking like this. In fact, this body shame can be devastating for a person's sex life.
Worrying that your body isn't sexy or desirable can stop you from wanting to have sex. It can also make you turn down sex when you do want it because you're too embarrassed or ashamed to expose your body. It stops you from enjoying the sex you do have because you're too busy spectatoring (i.e., hovering above yourself, trying to guess what your partner is seeing and thinking about your cellulite or your tummy). This, naturally, leads to problems having orgasms.
There's a saying: "When shame walks in the door, lust flies out the window."
Feeling sexy has nothing to do with how you look.
Here's the thing: Feeling sexy is different from looking sexy or wanting sex. It's an attitude, not a look. You can have truly any body size and shape and still feel sexy and desirable. And likewise, you could be the societally celebrated size 2 and still feel unattractive and undesirable.
A lot of women post-50 dislike their bodies because of the after-effects of having children, like stretch marks, loose skin, and breasts they have to lift to get into a bra. The second enemy is the general effects of maturing: wrinkling of the skin, a change in skin texture, the appearance of cellulite, and gravity, which causes certain body parts to sag. All are pretty much unavoidable, natural consequences of reaching half a century in years and/or being a parent.
Except most women don't think of it in a logical sense. Instead, our reaction is emotional. What is the point of beating ourselves up about things that are merely a byproduct of living our lives? (For parents, think of it like this: What would you prefer? Your children or your old body back?)
How to fall in love with your body—and sex—all over again.
Now, not all the women I interviewed for my book had a negative body image. And guess what? The women who were kind to themselves, about their bodies and attractiveness, were not only continuing to have sex—they reported having good, satisfying sex. Meanwhile, nearly all the women who didn't like their bodies had stopped.
Body shame is the No. 1 barrier to having good sex for women over 50. Hating how we look is making us hate sex—a feeling that's relevant for women across the life span but appears to be compounded with age.
So here are some practical things to do that are known to help remove this barrier:
Make sure you partner knows you need to be desired.
We need our partners to know how important it is to tell us, on a regular basis, that they find us sexy and attractive. Instead of you look nice dear, we want you look hot!
Feeling desired and having someone look at you lustfully is important and has been shown to turn women on.
Just as important: When your partner does say it, you need to believe them. Accept compliments with a gracious thank you. Don't trot out knee-jerk responses like, You don't really mean that or How can I look sexy? I'm so old.
Skip the diets.
If your doctor believes your body size could be a risk to your health, then by all means, do make the necessary adjustments to your diet and lifestyle. But just be aware that our perception of our body has little to do with what we actually look like. There are way more effective—and far more fun—ways to boost your sexual esteem.
Have more sex.
Having sex improves body image because your subconscious steps in and does the work for you. It bypasses those critical inner voices and says, Hey! You are a desirable person.
If sex is enjoyable, it makes us feel better about our bodies. It's a win-win-win scenario: The better you feel about your body, the better sex is because you relax into it and enjoy it more. This, in turn, makes us want sex more, which helps fuel a better body image.
Do improve your sex skills.
Sounds bizarre, right? Until you think about it. If you're a brilliant lover and used to people saying, My God. That was fantastic! You are amazing! then the way your thighs look isn't going to be foremost in your mind while you're having sex. Women who know they are great in bed are rarely body conscious while they're having sex, even if they are outside of the bedroom.
Be the one to initiate sex.
The person who initiates sex more often is seen as the "sexy person," and it shifts the power dynamic. You go from being the person who waits to be asked for sex to the person who is demanding sex from someone else. This is an effective way to shake a sleeping libido awake.
Be your own best friend.
What would you say to a best friend who was constantly putting herself down? You'd tell her to stop and shower her with compliments. Do it to yourself: Be your best friend, not your own worst critic.
Tracey Cox is a world-renowned sex educator and writer. She has an academic background in psychology and has been writing and talking about sex, body language, and relationships for 30 years. Along with her many contributions to journalistic outlets, she also writes a weekly column with the MailOnline, and has written 16 books, including including Hot Sex: How to Do It and Great Sex Starts at 50.
She also has two sex toy product ranges: EDGE, specifically designed for men, and supersex for men, women, and couples. Cox has appeared on Oprah, CNN, and The Today Show.