Aging Women Want S-E-X, Damn It

older women want s-e-x

Aging Women Want S-E-X, Damn It

I got a compliment the other day about my willingness to start conversations about women and our sexual experiences. It reminded me of how much I like this work and the rewards of helping women find their voices.  Mostly around sex and aging. Because, damn it, aging women want sex too.

I struggled as a new divorcee, figuring out sex as an older women: body image, performance, satisfying men, wanting to be desired yet fearing rejection. And finding the courage to talk about what I wanted. All issues that accompanied me on each date–some from my past, some drilled into me by the depictions of older women in the media.

Women are sexualized and objectified, then dismissed once we hit menopause. Ageism is rampant in the US, far more than in most cultures, with women more typically being the target.  Men get a pat on the back for going gray; women are shamed. Older women are portrayed as all dried up and non-sexual, while our male counterparts are seeking sexy 30-year-olds.

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Emma Thompson is one of a small number of actors getting roles as a sexy, vibrant, and engaging older woman who more accurately represents our demographic. In her latest movie, Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, she plays a woman in her early sixties who has never had an orgasm. Now a widow, she is determined to explore the kinds of sex that were not available to her in her marriage. 

 The movie barely skims the surface, but it is an excellent start. We get to see a middle aged woman, played by an actual middle-aged woman, who is eager for sex, while ambivalent and shy about the actual doing of it! We get to see her attempts to articulate what she wants, without necessarily having the words to discuss it. Her fears about her body, about her sexual capacity, and more. How many of us can relate?

I appreciate the movie for its portrayal of an aging woman, for Thompson’s willingness to reveal her body, and for normalizing sex across a wide age span. Emma Thompson’s character is not exaggerating when she says she’s never had an orgasm. A significant number of women don’t experience orgasms during sex, and many have never had an orgasm at all.

There are numerous barriers to a satisfying sex life: lack of awareness about one’s body response to pleasure, hormonal changes, and the attitude and receptiveness of a male partner. To name a few.  

In the United States we don’t value sex education and when we do get some form of education it is rarely focused on pleasure. In my memory the conversation basically said girls could get pregnant so be careful, but don’t worry because he, your future husband, will know what to do!

And as much as things have changed, there are still plenty of men who only care about their desires, their actions, and their performance, actions which often leave us unsatisfied. And frustrated. In Good Luck To You, Leo Grande the male character is a sex worker. He acts as quasi-therapist who listens patiently, understands his client’s fear and hangups and is there to focus on her needs, her pleasure. The story unfolds differently because she isn’t having to deal with a male partner, they are both focused on her needs and wants,  and it’s refreshing.

When I was in my mid-50s I wondered about my ability to feel and express pleasure. I was in a good sexual relationship but I knew I occasionally playacted for him, feeling he wanted me to be a certain way.  Some version of my people pleasing, caregiving, oldest child thing. I wondered what it would be like to experience sex without worrying about what my partner wanted. Without feeling I had to censure myself, or make noises, play the seductress, or hide/reveal my body, etc…

I believe we become more present to our desires and our bodies when we feel secure and trusting with a partner. For example, can we let go of concerns about our bodies in order to feel all the sensations? Are we able to ask for the kind of touch we need, or to trust that a partner will listen and be willing to satisfy our needs?

Sex seems so simple, but it can be nuanced and complicated. Women deserve to be with a partner who is as committed to her pleasure as their own. Women deserve to be able to bare our bodies with some ease, knowing we are being accepted for everything we bring to the moment. Our wisdom and beauty, softer and more supple with age. Our sensitivities, colored by nuances of previous encounters, both satisfying and disappointing. The changes in our bodies, our rhythms, our responsiveness. And maybe the most precious of all is our desire to embrace ourselves, no longer placing others first.

That’s what Thompson’s character was doing—exploring the part of her that felt unfulfilled or explored. Acknowledging her new phase of life and daring to demand more for herself. That’s a lot of confronting, and facing down fear, and daring to be open at a time when we most often feel our aging defines us. She reminds us that we are deserving of more. 

  Can you make that shift? Watching Good Luck to You, Leo Grande might be a good place to start. 

Photo by Alexis Fauvet on Unsplash

2 Comments
  • Lauren
    Posted at 10:45h, 01 July Reply

    I guess the same old insecurities are still there even when we are older. I need to see this movie.

    • Walker Thornton
      Posted at 09:44h, 08 July Reply

      Definitely. It’s a good movie and it allows the viewer to think about what it is they want to pursue.

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