Just to provide an alternative to all this sweetness and loveliness and because, with shows like Gypsy (Netflix) its always a hot topic, I’m re-blogging an article that Miss Jones and I wrote a couple of years ago, for another blog. The original 50 Shades film had just come out and I was pretty unimpressed (I never read the books) mostly because I couldn’t work out why so many older women cared about the sex life of a 20 year old virgin. What was happening with our sex lives ? Middle-aged sex? So we went on an investigation ….
As a result of the ’50 Shades effect’ (so powerful that even the staff at B&Q hardware shops have been briefed on how to answer ‘personal’ questions about what to do with cable ties) there has been an even greater obsession than usual in the media with women’s attitude towards sex. Vogue splashed a lengthy article about female friendly pornography whilst Women’s Health investigated the positive influence of cam-girls. Yet none of this, certainly not 50 Shades itself, seems to relate to women’s real sex lives, especially those of us in the middle years. So the question is, what are women actually doing? A quick tour of women in our age group revealed some surprising answers. All names, of course, have been changed to protect the innocent and the adventurous…
Two’s company but three, four or five is a party….
Sarah has had multiple sexual partners for the past 3 years and claims it has done nothing but strengthen her marriage.
“We had a very difficult time when our youngest son was born with severe health problems. For nearly two years my husband and I barely had any kind of sex life. When life started to get back to normal my husband eventually told me he was frightened that as a 40 year old man he might never have exciting sex again. I was totally shocked. We’d been through so much and although we had sex, it was very straight, probably a bit dull. But I had kidded myself that was how marriage was supposed to be. I didn’t really expect it to be all rainbows and fireworks after 12 years of marriage. At first I was hurt and quite angry with him but then I began to realise I felt the same way. He hadn’t made any suggestions as to how we might solve the problem but then I read an article in a magazine about the Killing Kittens sex club. They put on female friendly sex parties in glamorous locations. I looked at their website and for the first time in years I started to feel the sexual excitement that you have when you’re young. I found it really awkward to discuss with my husband at first but unsurprisingly he was very into the whole idea.
We took a deep breath and made arrangements to join a group sex party. Obviously I was very nervous and so was my husband but we had done some research, followed all the advice and had a very honest talk before about what our boundaries were. In the end, it felt like the easiest, most natural thing in the whole world. The energy in the room was incredible. It was so positive, so loving and supportive whilst being really fun and naughty at the same time. It was like a lightbulb switching on for me. Having said that, I also realised that parties can be pretty intense and you can feel out of control at them.
We have since developed a relationship where both of us play away. I have three regular lovers and occasionally, with my husband, do the group thing. My husband finds my erotic adventures very exciting so I tell him all about them. My husband has permission to do what he likes. All I want to know is if he’s happy. I wouldn’t want to hear the details.
I am very grateful that my husband talked to me about this rather than suffering in silence or just going off and shagging around in secret. If I’d found out about him having affairs not only would I have felt betrayed but also taken advantage of. I realise now that I have a very strong sex drive which I kept squashed down for years. By being honest with me he gave me the opportunity to have the sex life I always really wanted.
I think it’s good that I’m in my forties though. My body may not be as great as it was twenty years ago but I have the confidence to deal with things better now. Sometimes, people can try to take advantage of you or situations can get intense and you need to be able to stand your ground and be firm with them. It’s also really important that my husband and I are secure with each other emotionally.
I think that if you are going to have an open marriage it is very important that both people are completely happy with the idea. If one of you is doing it just to please the other one then it will be a disaster. That’s when you need to think about the basic problems in your marriage rather than try this as a cure. For us, though, it was like embarking on a very exciting adventure together. It brought back the spark in every way.”
There are various roads to go down when it comes to having sex with more than one person. The first is the good, old fashioned affair route. This is generally the least successful because of all the lying and cheating that’s involved. For couples who have a healthier relationship, open marriages or swinging is the recreational sex version whereas polyamory is a lifestyle choice that is political as well as personal. The book The Ethical Slut came out nearly twenty years ago and is the practical guide for people wanting to embrace a multi-partner lifestyle that isn’t about cheating or being unfaithful. Its lasting popularity suggests that the notion of socially acceptable multi-partner relationships won’t be going away anytime soon.
L.O.L –(Late On-set Lesbianism)
The list of well-known and successful women who have ‘gone gay’ during their forties and fifties is long and getting longer. Susie Orbach, Cynthia Nixon, Kelly McGillis, Alison Goldfrapp and Mary Portas are just a few women who moved from traditional heterosexual relationships to gay ones. For a number of women this feels like a natural progression. For others, it is a traumatic changeover which leaves them feeling isolated and unhappy.
Rachel is 54 and she divorced nearly five years ago. For the past ten months she’s been in an ‘intense friendship’ with another woman.
“We first met through friends, like most couples do and in a way, it’s much easier because the spark that was there from the beginning just seemed like we were destined to be really good friends. Now I look back on it I can see it was like falling in love. I suppose it was falling in love, but that still feels difficult to say.
I had a very normal marriage, we fell in love at university, got married and a few years later had three children. I gave up work and I think that was a big part of the problem because it was like some marriage from the 1950’s. It’s amazing how even nowadays so many women find themselves in that position. He was out all the time, being an excellent provider but by the time the children were in their teens we simply didn’t have anything in common anymore. I spent all my time around women and men just started to drift away from my consciousness, I suppose. When we divorced it was a massive sense of relief but very frightening at the same time. I knew I didn’t want to go back to the same old domestic routine with anyone but also I didn’t want to be alone.
I’d been seeing Jenny as a friend for about six months when we had a conversation in which we both acknowledged it was more than a ‘normal’ (for want of a better word) friendship. That we loved each other. She’d had a gay relationship before and in fact I’d had sex with a girl at university a few times so, somehow, it took us both back to times when we felt younger and freer. I still find it difficult to identify myself as gay and certainly I don’t shout about it to the children or my wider social circle. I just know that I love her. I think I’d probably love her if she were a man too.”
Rachel’s sentiments are strikingly similar to other stories from late-blooming lesbians. Not identifying with the political aspect of being gay, this seems to be a very personal expression of fluid sexuality. Alison Goldfrapp made a similar statement in The Sunday Times after being outed in 2010 “I am in a wonderful relationship with a wonderful person. It just happens to be with a lady…I don’t think it can or should be pigeonholed.”
This sexual fluidity is a great benefit for many women. Dr Lisa Diamond, an academic who studies psychology and gender, has undertaken a fifteen year-long investigation into how women’s sexuality develops as they age. She notes that men rarely change their mind about their preferred sex in middle age. A man who comes out as gay when he’s older has often been undergoing a difficult and secretive struggle. Whereas for women the change is usually more revelatory. Whilst Diamond states that this is not a ‘choice’ for these women and is always described as being beyond their control, there are often very positive outcomes.
“While some people find change threatening others find it exciting and liberating, and I definitely think that for women in middle adulthood and later life, they might be the most likely to find sexual shifts empowering… whatever went on in your past might not be the best predictor of what your future has in store.”
All by myself – Celibacy
Of the three sexual life changes we’ve considered this was the most difficult to find anyone to talk to about. It’s easy to find people who are celibate for spiritual reasons, but that wasn’t really what we were interested in exploring. It’s also fairly easy to find people who have slid into celibacy whilst still in long standing relationships. But try as we might, we couldn’t find anyone who would admit to having chosen celibacy as a sexual path in its own right. Fortunately for us, Hepzibah Anderson wrote a book entitled Chastened, all about celibacy as a positive sexual option. She says that, far from the notion that sex is essential to our health, it is like food, we can do without it. Again she points out that “Sexuality is fluid. Some people have low or no sex drive but if it doesn’t cause them any distress then it’s not a dysfunction. We shouldn’t make judgements.”
A number of women she spoke to stated that they simply didn’t want to be distracted by sex; they had other things to focus on and found hook-ups soulless and romantic entanglements a nuisance.
Suzie King, who set up the dating website Platonic Partners, said in an interview in The Telegraph “Libido is a very dynamic energy and it’s my belief that you can channel it into other things.” King chose to be celibate after a difficult relationship which left her with “Compassion burn-out. The compassion and creativity I did have left I decided to put into my new business.”
Mostly people seem to choose celibacy as a temporary path. Anderson even chronicles in her book how she carried on having certain sexual encounters during her year long period of abstinence, suggesting that her notion of celibacy was very fluid indeed! Those that have chosen it seem to have found it to be very powerful in terms of allowing oneself time to heal and rebalance. However, a sex life is still about sex, even if it’s defined by its absence. “Chastened” ruminates on sex and relationships the whole of the way through. The lack of it makes the idea of having it all the more enticing. Just try not thinking about an elephant for a moment and you’ll see what I mean…
Ditching the Disney Princess
All of these sexual choices seem to have one thing in common: a desire to regain control over a vital part of our lives. Whether you’re seeking freedom through having multiple partners, being fluid in terms of your preferred sex or giving up sex completely it is all about making your own decisions. I believe it is because we are still trapped within the Disney Princess notion of what is an acceptable sex life for a woman. It often takes 40 years and a few shocks and catastrophes along the way before we feel capable of making our own decisions. The Princess factory is persuasive and attractive, designed cleverly to lure us in before we’re too old to know any better. The establishment disseminates firm ideas on what is an acceptable nuclear family whilst laws and financial restrictions ensure we all have to live within that tradition.
But surely it’s time to disentangle what makes a stable base for the upbringing of children from romantic nonsense? The jury is still out on whether any of these options will bring long lasting contentment. However, with 54% of women in a relationship admitting to infidelity and 68% saying they would be unfaithful if they knew they could get away with it, perhaps it is self-defeating to insist on the traditionally rigid structure of marriage and a policy of silence and lies to keep it going?
PS. And the main thing I’ve learned is that ‘sexuality is fluid’… which makes me giggle a bit.