Old Couple

Miley Cyrus knows how to dress provocatively, to take her clothes off in public, and to say whatever pops into her head in any venue where there is media to record her provocative remarks. 

On the Today show to promote her new album, Bangerz, Cyrus decided that she was, at the age of 20, an expert on sex throughout the decades. Matt Lauer asked how long the sexy side of her current persona was going to be around.  Cyrus  responded,  “I heard when you turn 40 things start to go a little less sexual . . . around 40, people don’t have sex anymore.” She then told Lauer, who is 55, that his sex life was definitely over.

Women just ending their late adolescence may choose to hook up and be sexual, but many of them know little about the intimacy that makes sex wonderful. While women in this age group are no doubt both sexually attractive and attracted to others, learning the physical mechanics—and, more important, the emotional dynamics—involved in a sexual relationship can be a slow process. It takes self-confidence, knowledge of one’s own erotic needs, and the capacity and interest to please a partner—all of which are best achieved within a committed, trusting relationship.

Today’s pervasive “hookup culture” offers young women little opportunity for such experience. The social milieu that adolescent girls and young women find themselves in often leads them to have sex because they feel it is expected of them, to please their partner. Many young women feel that they have no other choice if they want to interest a man, and yet sex doesn’t necessarily lead to second “dates.”

And while it takes time and trust for many women to even be orgasmic in a new relationship, women over 40 know that though young men may be able to sustain an erection forever, often they don’t know what else to do. It takes experience for men to know the vast geography of the female genital map and to understand what each new partner will enjoy. There are boys who can’t find a clitoris even with a GPS device, and very few young women have the confidence or voice to tell these partners what really pleases them. Foreplay, not alcohol or drugs, is what will please most women who are old enough to know what they want. And—duh—conversation and flirting are foreplay.

Psychologically, casual sex offers a poor introduction to sex for men and women alike, though more and more frequently, casual sex is all they know. It is the rare adolescent who has the independence or sense of self to go against the prevailing culture—especially when pop stars like Miley Cyrus and others are busy setting examples for them. Sex is sold as “no big deal”—but in the process, its importance as part of an intimate relationship is degraded. The upshot is that young women have lost their sense of agency or choice in the matter. Once again women have been  “silenced” and have learned that their needs are not part of the equation. Yet in the end, both parties wind up embarrassed, because sex IS intimate, and when you wake up naked in the morning next to a stranger, the first thing you want to do is get away from him. This is one of the reasons that one-night stands so rarely lead to long-term relationships (even in the olden days).

Years of research post–Masters and Johnson (Human Sexual Response, 1st ed. 1966) have revealed that the female sexual response is different from the male sexual response. The male sexual response is linear, and is a four-stage model of physiological responses to sexual stimulation: the excitement phase, the plateau phase, the orgasmic phase, and the resolution phase. Soon after Masters and Johnson did their pioneering work, research physicians, therapists, and scientists began to understand that many women do not conform to the linear model of sexual response. In 1997, Whipple and Brash-McGreer proposed a circular sexual response pattern for women that begins with seduction and proceeds through sensations (excitement and plateau), surrender (orgasm), and reflection (resolution).  Rosemary Basson’s research supported this circular model as a more accurate description of women’s sexual responses. She emphasized that closeness or attachment to a partner increases the effectiveness of sexual stimulation, which leads to enhanced sexual arousal more often resulting in orgasm, followed by resolution (what Whipple called “reflection.”)

Tenderness, intimacy, and pair-bonding increase in the delicate sensual and sexual dance when men and women understand each other’s rhythms and sexual needs. Each satisfying sexual experience then reminds women of the pleasure of sexual activity, and over time makes the seduction phase of the next sexual experience easier.  Women over 40 have had the opportunity to develop skills to become more experienced sexual partners themselves.  Age gives both sexes the opportunity to know themselves and to become authentic, which leads to real confidence in the bedroom. This confidence and years of sexual experience allow both men and women to know what their partners like and to enjoy both giving and receiving sexual pleasure.

Multiple hookups, drug-and alcohol-fueled one-night encounters, playing dress-up emotionally and sexually in order to find the person who might be “the one,” are just part of the agony that Miley’s peers have to endure in their 20s.  Most of the millennials will find a partner, though it seems harder for them than it was for those of us over 40 when we suffered through that life stage.  Hang on, Miley.  You may grow up someday and find a life with meaning and great sex.

Image from Flickr via.