Sex af­ter 60

Re­defin­ing in­ti­macy

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Marni Jack­son

OH BOY. Just typ­ing that ti­tle makes me want to flee into the kitchen to eat four squares of dark choco­late. The phrase “sex af­ter 60” sounds like either a sen­tence or a pre­scrip­tion. So let’s call it some­thing else: How about The Shape of De­sire – and How It Changes As We Age.

In the mean­time, I can talk about this book, A French­woman’s Guide to Sex Af­ter Sixty by Marie de Hen­nezell and how it made me feel. I opened it with trep­i­da­tion be­cause even the slight­est cul­tural pres­sure to have fab­u­lous sex af­ter a cer­tain age raises my hack­les. One of the pay­offs of get­ting older, af­ter all, is the free­dom that comes with it – the free­dom to stop play­ing roles, to stop only pleas­ing oth­ers and to be true to your own de­sires. I don’t want to be chas­ing my 20-year-old self for­ever.

Luck­ily, Ms. de Hen­nezel and I agree on most counts. It’s a cu­ri­ous book, in­sou­ciant and ca­sual; her re­search in­volves lit­tle more than chat­ting up friends or cou­ples she hap­pens to meet. She raises an el­e­gant French brow at the now univer­sal prac­tice of In­ter­net dat­ing and she seems to have never heard of Tantric sex, a

med­i­ta­tive form of cou­pling that post­pones or­gasm. Nev­er­the­less, the au­thor gamely signs up for an all-women Tantric work­shop and even­tu­ally flings off her sarong along with ev­ery­one else (but stops there).

De Hen­nezel’s main point is that sex af­ter 60 should be more freestyle and less about achiev­ing or­gasm. De­sire will sur­face, she writes, if you let it hap­pen and al­low it to take its own shape. Older sex is more about ex­press­ing ten­der­ness and in­ti­macy. I was not sur­prised when she found that many younger read­ers were drawn to this paradigm, too. The hook-up cul­ture can be a chilly world.

“We must let go of what we know, for­get about sex­ual per­for­mance and old fan­tasies, and ‘let love hap­pen,’” de Hen­nezel writes. “In other words, we must learn to take plea­sure as it comes rather than fo­cus on what it should be.”

I agree. The thing to ex­plore, the thing to count on as we age, is that the de­sire to be phys­i­cally in­ti­mate never goes away. I know I will be climb­ing into my hus­band’s hos­pi­tal bed and tak­ing more than half the blan­kets when the time comes. But the way sex works in­evitably changes, as bod­ies change and li­bidos wax and wane. Some women feel even lustier in their 60s and 70s. Oth­ers would rather watch Sea­son 2 of The Crown. Men may still feel sex­u­ally aroused but lose the abil­ity to have an erec­tion and, for women, the loss of es­tro­gen can make in­ter­course painful or or­gasms more elu­sive. There’s al­ways Vi­a­gra, top­i­cal es­tro­gen creams or hor­mone re­place­ment to ad­dress all that, but in­ter­course doesn’t have to be the be-all and end-all for cou­ples as they age. There’s al­ways the op­tion of an erotic ful­fill­ing sex­ual en­counter that doesn’t in­clude pen­e­tra­tion. The main dilemma of hav­ing sex in old age is how to find and ex­press sex­ual de­sire when the usual rou­tines no longer work.

My main ad­vice? Build it, and they will come (lit­er­ally). That is, sched­ule reg­u­lar in­ti­mate in­ter­ludes – an hour that you re­serve for the two of you to just loll around in bed. A planned ren­dezvous but with no ex­pec­ta­tions or pres­sure to per­form – just a will­ing­ness to de­vote some time to a lit­tle naked in­ti­macy as op­posed to do­ing the cross­word. Chances are, some­thing will hap­pen. It just might not be your old script.

The body has a mind of its own. If you clear a space for de­sire to emerge and ac­cept its path, you may be sur­prised that (a) the de­sire is still there, and (b) it feels won­der­ful to have sex with this per­son you have had sex with for so long – even if “what you do” for sex changes. We weren’t de­signed to drive each other mad with pas­sion for 40 or 50 years. The trick, re­ally, is to cul­ti­vate close­ness – be­cause it’s close­ness that fu­els de­sire for the other. It’s a sense of in­ti­macy and con­nect­ed­ness that makes both of you more pa­tient (and cre­ative) with any obstacles in its way.

As for the es­thet­ics of ag­ing, it’s amaz­ing how ir­rel­e­vant phys­i­cal flaws, real or imag­ined, are when it comes to sex. The wrin­kles, the ex­tra pounds, the thin­ning hair – once you’re in the sack all that dis­ap­pears, erased by the ever-re­silient de­sire to feel close to an­other warm-skinned per­son.

Two vol­umes that might join de Hen­nezel’s on your shelves: Cana­dian jour­nal­ist Sarah Bar­mak’s well-re­searched and spir­ited in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Closer: Notes From the Or­gas­mic Fron­tier of Fe­male Sex­u­al­ity, and an older ti­tle (2003) by Jane Juska, called A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Ad­ven­tures in Sex and Ro­mance. The lat­ter de­scribes the ex­pe­ri­ences of a 66-year-old woman who placed an ad in the New York Re­view of Books that said, “Be­fore I turn 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trol­lope works for me.” Juska re­ceived 63 replies and em­barked on a se­ries of re­la­tion­ships that ran the gamut from brief erotic en­coun­ters to sev­eral last­ing love af­fairs. Sex, af­ter all, is not just about main­tain­ing in­ti­macy in a mar­riage.

Bar­mak’s book is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause she re­ports on new sci­en­tific find­ings about fe­male or­gasm and a re­vised map­ping of the cli­toris. It turns out it is not the dainty lit­tle ac­ces­sory sex ed­u­ca­tors be­lieved it was 40 years ago. It’s more like a vast un­der­ground mall – well, some­thing more fun than that. The cli­toral nerve sex-tend far and wide in the pelvic area, which is why or­gasms and how they ar­rive still re­main a lit­tle mys­te­ri­ous. Her re­search also puts the ki­bosh on the old dis­tinc­tion be­tween a “cli­toral or­gasm” and one achieved through in­ter­course; there’s only one fe­male or­gasm, and how a woman ar­rives at one is won­der­fully var­ied.

Bar­mak, like de Hen­nezel, also points out that tak­ing or­gasm off the menu doesn’t have to mean the end of sex, either. Our def­i­ni­tion of sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion evolves, as we evolve and age. The point, all three au­thors agree, is that sex in what­ever form we pur­sue it should be about do­ing what feels good and lay­ing claim to plea­sure at any age.

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