It’s officially news: women over 50 have sex lives.
Here’s what the white coats are saying: In a study of more than 3,000 participants recently reported in The Journals of Gerontology, more than 62 percent of the women (and 84 percent of the men) 57 to 64 years old reported having sex with a partner in the previous year. At the upper end of the study—75 to 85 years old—the figures dwindled; in that group, 38 percent of the men and 17 percent of the women were still sexually active.
But I could have told you that. What I don’t understand is how they could set the bar so low. Once a year…and they call that sex?
I hear stories of healthy libidos here in the Big Apple all the time. Women who are married yet still find it fun to surprise and be surprised by the fun that sex brings to their relationships. Women who understand that orgasmic sex, partnered or not, is great for the mood and gives a woman a terrific pre-party glow. “What have you done?” is not a question these women are likely to answer when asked why they’re looking so good.
I know women who have been involved in long-term monogamous but not married relationships that remain sexually very rewarding (like Catherine Deneuve and William Hurt in the movie above–released here in 2002 as Nearest to Heaven–in the only G-rated clip that showed their characters’ desire). These are women in their late 70s whose partners are sometimes older. Romance is the fuel for the sexual fire and both partners in these decades appreciate the dance of desire that makes the intimacy even more precious.
Illness, depression, and terrible life stressors from extended caregiving, job loss, or other economic fears in this current recession are damping the libido across the decades and are having an impact on sexual interest for men and women. Some couples are finding that the pleasure of intimacy is a way to recover joy in an otherwise troubled period of life. Some women whose partners have been ill for some time find relationships that are sexual and meaningful as a buttress to the nightmare of endless caregiving. In my experience, many women over 50 who are single don’t want to be married. They want a meaningful, tender and sexually fulfilling relationship without the demands of a husband whose needs come before pleasure. One woman I know well won’t even allow a beau to spend the night. “You make him leave your apartment at two in the morning?” I asked. “Don’t want to let him get too comfortable,” she explained with a laugh.
Then there’s my heroine, whom I’ll call Sarah. She is 57 and the model of reinvention. She is invited everywhere for her wit and charm and a certain-to-shock way with words. Sarah has a charming man in her life whom she refuses to marry and who will never leave her. Sex twice a day, four days a week will do that to a man, you know.
My question for the scientists who did this study is: “Why in the world would you call intercourse once a year sex at all? Why bother?”