Generally, as women age, society has the perception that sexual interest fades, if not disappears altogether. There has long been a pervasive myth perpetuated that women generally have responsive desire to sex, rather than spontaneous desire, meaning that women require an external stimulus to desire sex, rather than feeling into it all by themselves. Obviously such perceptions are now regularly challenged, but there is still a fifties hangover that lingers regarding female sexuality. This makes the new research, that claims some women over 60 years old desire sex more than in their younger years, breakthrough material.
Over recent years, the media has started to cover aspects such as beauty and capability in older women. There is a push in general for women to be valued for more than their looks or their bodies. We are seeing women with a wider variety of body types and ages being revered, with many challenges to the social norms created by a superficial society. This study can only be a positive step towards such a movement.
In the study 43 Australian women, with partners, were interviewed about their sex lives. Granted this is a very small sample size, but at least it’s a start. Talking to women in their 60s and 70s about sex is fairly rare and unusual, however this kind of research is on the rise. Importantly, the interviews did not focus on penetrative sex alone, which is often seen as the “ideal”, but their sexual activity in general. The effects of ageing on erections and vaginal lubrication have, in the past, tended to dominate our beliefs about sex in mature people. This kind of binary thinking must contribute to the social belief that those over a certain age are asexual. Even some of the participants considered their relationships to be sexless because there was no penetrative sex involved, but upon further investigation, it was discovered that sexual intimacy was still present.
One possible reason for this increase in desire is that as we age, the pressure for sex is removed. One participant commented that it was “safer” to have a cuddle with her partner, because there was no pressure to have sex afterwards, which allowed her to respond in a more sensual manner. This shows how the pressure for penetrative sex that some younger women may feel can at times hinder their desire for other forms of intimacy.
Some other reasons for an increase in desire in older age include:
- Not having a young family to raise
- No risk of pregnancy
- Increased confidence and ability to ask for what they want
- Knowing their bodies more intimately
I would suggest that there is much to be learned from this study. Firstly, that women should allow themselves the time and space to get to know their bodies. Also, that sexual activity should not be perceived as intercourse alone and the journey of sex be explored further. And finally, that sexual activity runs along a continuum from cuddles to penetration and everything in between. One stand out take away from this study is that mature women require resources that discuss their sexuality and age related changes. Maybe if we let go of this belief that sex equals intercourse and talk more openly about sex as we age, women will feel more at ease to explore their sexuality?
Reference: Fileborn, B., Thorpe, R., Hawkes, G., Minichiello, V., Pitts, M., & Dune, T. (2015). Sex, desire and pleasure: considering the experiences of older Australian women. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 30(1), 117-130.