“I’m too old for sex.”
“Losing your sex drive is just part of getting older.”
“Sex isn’t important when you’re older.”
These statements aren’t based on truths. They are based on societal biases and stereotypes for women.
When we think of sexy women, what immediately comes to mind for many of us are images of women in their 20s and early 30s. It is rare that our brains pull up images of women over age 50. Women like Jamie Lee Curtis. Michelle Yeoh. Helen Mirren. Angela Bassett. Society conditions us to designate “sexy” and “sexual” to younger women and, even worse, we believe it.
Here’s a simple example of this bias. When George Clooney’s hair started to go gray, did you read the articles about his choice not to color his hair? Did you watch an interview where he defended his decision not to color his hair? Did you weigh in on social media polls to vote on whether he should keep the gray hair or not? I will bet you didn’t see anything like that about George Clooney and his gray hair.
Yet when Andi McDowell decided to stop coloring her hair during the pandemic, all of these things happened. There were articles and interviews about her choice to go gray. On social media, people could vote on “which looked better” regarding her gray hair versus colored hair. This is an example of the covert belief systems about women, women’s wants, and women as sexual beings. Simply discussing and questioning a woman's choice for her hair demonstrates the bias that is not generated when it comes to men.
What would someone my age do with a vibrator?!?!
I'll give you an example from my personal life. I was having lunch with a group of women several months ago. One woman, aged 59, mentioned that her 30-year-old daughter asked if she had a vibrator. “Can you imagine?”, this woman said. “What would someone my age do with a vibrator?!?!” When I asked her what she responded to her daughter, she said that she told her daughter she was too old to be interested in sex or “things like that”. This was a clear illustration of the belief systems women have unconsciously adopted from society, and which we perpetuate to the women around us. These biased stereotypes create a double standard.
When female sexual pleasure is discussed, it is often still embedded as a subset within the bubble of male sexual pleasure. This subset focuses on womens’ sexual pleasure occurring only with and for males’ interests. The irony of that perspective is that girls and women have the only human organ whose sole purpose is for sexual pleasure: the clitoris. We, as females, are born with an organ dedicated to our pleasure yet our pleasure is often considered second, if at all. While it might be easy to blame others for negating our physical construction for pleasure, very often as women we do this to ourselves, particularly as we get older and accept the bias that we are no longer sexual beings. But here’s the irony to that way of thinking - our clitoris doesn’t disappear with age. It is still a viable organ for pleasure. While the ways we create and maintain stimulation might change with age, the ability to achieve sexual pleasure, if we so choose, does not.
If not in relation to male sexuality, female sexual pleasure is considered as part of the reproductive process. From an early age, we are taught that our sexual pleasure is only appropriate to discuss as connected to act of conception. So is it any wonder that once this goal is achieved, many women - consciously or subconsciously - consider sex and sexual pleasure unnecessary, and themselves as “too old” for sex?
Connecting to our power
The problem with not talking about and not facilitating female sexual pleasure, at any age, is that we are missing an opportunity to connect women to their power. There are five ways connecting to our sexual pleasure creates wellness for us as women.
First, when we as women intimately know our bodies, we can effectively own our bodies. Instead of others defining what we want, we identify and own what we want. We learn we don’t need to rely on someone else to give us satisfaction or fulfillment in any area of our life because we own our bodies and our lives.
Secondly, when we embrace this power, we learn how to articulate our wants to other people. Whether it is our wants in our personal lives or in our professional lives, we will know how to tell others what we want. We get to reject the stereotype of women putting themselves last in deference to everyone else’s needs and wants.
Third, when we create dialogue about, and provide appropriate tools for, sexual pleasure it reduces the stigma regarding this topic. We break down the stereotypes that women after age 50 are asexual, or that women are only here to create sexual pleasure for their partners. We can then avoid being judged for having desires and wants that when experienced by our male counterparts, are seen as typical and acceptable long into late adulthood.
Fourth, talking about and facilitating women’s sexual pleasure allows women to know their bodies, particularly as their bodies change over time. Two of my clients clearly illustrate this perspective. One was a 52-year-old woman, diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She was raised believing that touching her body was inappropriate so on the few occasions she did a breast check, she didn’t know what was typical and rushed through her self-exams feeling embarrassed. Another one of my clients, aged 64, engaged in masturbation several times a week as part of her lunch break, something she described as “an unwritten perk of remote jobs”. During one masturbation break, she felt a tenderness on the right side of her pelvic area that wasn’t usually there. She continued to pay attention to it and when it didn’t go away after two weeks, she went to see her gynecologist who then sent her for an ultrasound. That and some additional testing confirmed my client had an early stage of ovarian cancer.
The first client I mentioned died. The second client I mentioned survived. When we are comfortable touching our bodies, we learn about our bodies. This is essential in managing our overall health through all stages of our life.
Finally, as we practice acts of self-love and appreciation, we also help keep our sexual desire an active part of our lives, in a “use it or lose it” perspective. We know if we don’t engage in cognitive wellness exercises, our brains can deteriorate. We know if we don’t engage in physical wellness activity, our bodies can deteriorate. And if we don’t engage in sexual wellness activities, our sex drive will deteriorate.
Why do we allow society to dictate who we are and what we want as women? Who are “they” to tell us we stop being sexy or sexual at an indiscriminate age? We can decide what we want for our lives and our relationships. We can choose to define our wants and work to achieve our wants. We can push back against societal biases which cage us within stereotypes and outdated norms. Feeling sexy and being sexual is about our power, and that is not open for negotiation or compromise.
Written by Dr. Robin Buckley