I am afraid of getting old. I am afraid that my time to be sexy is limited. I am scared that my vagina will become saggy.
Like all of us, I am a member of our youth-obsessed society, which glorifies skinny, beautiful teenagers as the model for which we should all strive. I've seen enough anti-aging skin cream commercials over the 32 years of my life that I have internalized the fear-based marketing tactics of the advertising industry. The crazy part is that even though I understand on a rational basis that the commercials are lying, deep inside, the insecurities have wiggled their way into my pschye on an emotional level.
Enter Cindy Gallop.
My friend Cindy used to belong to the elite world of professional liars widely known as the advertising industry. However, the thing is that Cindy doesn't lie. Her brutal honesty cuts a hot laser through all the bullshit. She is a sexy, intelligent woman who defies stereotypes and stands out as the most independent individual I have ever met. Seriously.
To be perfectly frank, if you haven't noticed, I often use this column as a way to explore my frustrations, my fears, or my simple curiosities about sex. That's why I knew I had to interview Cindy to open up a dialog about sex after 50.
A little caveat: Cindy is straight, so she speaks from her experience with dating men. However, much of what she says is interesting on a human level, regardless of sexual identity.
Cindy, give us a little background on who you are, where you came from, and how you got to NYC.
My father is English and my mother Chinese. I was born in the U.K., but when I was 6 we moved to Brunei, in Borneo, where I grew up. My background is advertising: I moved to New York from London in 1998 to start up the U.S. office of ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty. These days I'm an entrepreneur with two early-stage Web ventures, If We Ran the World and MakeLoveNotPorn. My team and I will launch the next iteration of the latter, makelovenotporn.tv, later on this spring.
I also work as a consultant, specifically for clients and brands that want to change the game in their particular sector and are looking for radically innovative, transformative solutions. My consultancy approach can best be characterized as, "I like to blow shit up." I am the Michael Bay of business.
You told me once that you never wanted to be anyone's wife or anyone's mother. Why? How did you come to this decision?
Well, I realized relatively early on that I had no desire to be a mother whatsoever. I actually love children, but specifically other people's. I have three nieces, three nephews, four god-daughters, and a godson, all of whom I adore, and that does me just fine. And I've never felt any particular desire to be married. There was no active, conscious decision-making point, just a gradual realization over time that I'm very happy minus children and marriage.
You're very open about sleeping with younger men. What do you find appealing about them? Why don't you date men your own age?
Dating younger men happened like many things in my life -- accidentally. Ten years ago, when I was running BBH New York, we pitched for an online dating brand, and we had to try out the client's product and the competition. I was surprised to be inundated with approaches from younger men, and while I had not considered actively operating that particular dating strategy, I decided to give it a go, and had a whale of a time dating younger men for a year. I then met online and fell in love with someone only two years younger than me. When that relationship ended two and a half years later, I reverted to dating younger men and have been doing so very happily ever since.
I gave a talk at TEDUniversity in Long Beach several years ago called "The Toyboy Manifesto: Why Older Woman + Younger Man Is the Relationship Model of the Future," explaining why dating younger men works for me. There are obvious advantages: lots of stamina, very short recovery periods. But there are many less obvious ones that make this a particularly fulfilling and rewarding relationship model for me -- too many to go into here (I filled a whole talk with them!), but which I can happily expound on at another time.
I don't date men my own age because I'm not looking for a relationship. I'm very focused on my work and my ventures, and I am open about the fact that I therefore date younger men on a casual and recreational basis. However, no matter how casual the relationship, I have one fundamental criterion: they have to be a very, very nice person. I have excellent radar for very, very nice people, and as a result I only date utterly lovely younger men, in a context of mutual trust, respect, affection, and liking. A number of these casual relationships last a great deal longer than other folks' committed ones (I've been seeing one young gentleman on and off for the past five years, ever since he approached me on MySpace when he was 22). The men may go on to date women their own age, or move away to other parts of the country; we stay friends, stay in touch, and continue to meet platonically.
I'm open about all of this because it is emblematic of a bigger point: I believe everyone should be free to operate the relationship model that works for them, and which may well be different at different points in their life, as opposed to the relatively small number of relationship models society decrees is acceptable.
What are your views in general about sex? Would you consider yourself to be sex-positive?
I think sex is one of the most powerfully wonderful things about being human -- and also one of the most powerfully misunderstood, complicated, needlessly unhappy things about being human. Yes, I guess I would consider myself "sex-positive" in the sense that I'm extremely positive about sex, but I'm not a big fan of the term "sex-positive" and wish it didn't have to exist. It implies that it is possible to be "sex-negative," and I don't think anyone should be.
Do you think that there is an unfair double standard when it comes to women and sex? If so, what do you think is the root of this issue, and has it improved?
Yes, of course there is. This is a very complicated issue that has built up over centuries of sociocultural conditioning, and for a thoughtful, objective perspective I would refer readers to Jack Holland's excellent book Misogyny: The World's Oldest Prejudice. The book is a must-read for both women and men, and I can promise all of you that, as one Amazon reviewer says, "I'm as surprised to report as I'm sure you are to read that this book is neither the downer nor the inciter to riot I was expecting. It's the history of the world's oldest and most determined prejudice written with clarity and humor, beginning with Pandora and ending with the Taliban."
I think this issue has improved a little, but not nearly enough (and not at all in many parts of the developing world), and that's something I want to help accelerate, including by speaking openly and frankly in interviews like this one.
Has sex changed for you over time? Is it different to have sex over 50?
I don't know that sex has changed for me over time. Your sexual experience is the sum of all the partners you've had, and in that sense, if, like me, you are not in a long-term monogamous relationship, then your sex life is changing and evolving all the time -- in lots of fun ways. No, it's not different to have sex over 50. If anything, it just keeps getting better and better, and more and more fun.
What are the challenges you face in the bedroom these days?
No challenges. The older you get, the better sex gets. For me, great sex is about two things: confidence and communication. Despite my need every so often to engage in #fatmageddon, my Twitter hashtag for watching my food and alcohol intake in order to continue to fit into my clothes, I'm very fond of my body, with all its lumps and bumps, and find my partners are equally fond of it, so no self-consciousness there. Women: remember, when you get naked, the guy's so pathetically grateful to be there that he just thinks you're the most wonderful thing he's ever seen. No exceptions.
Because I don't feel insecure about my body, I can focus on making my partner feel great about his. One of my personal soapboxes is that we don't tell men often enough how beautiful they are. Literally, using the term "beautiful." Men's bodies are as beautiful as women's. One of the disservices that porn does to men is to make them feel that their sexual appeal is entirely dick-centric. I've been very struck by the wave of response there's been to this video of me on Victoria Floethe and Kate Rose's Desire Project, where I talk about how arousing men's forearms are. I make a point of telling the men I sleep with how beautiful I find them, what lovely bodies they have, how much I love looking at, touching, and appreciating them separate from the sex itself, and it's clear from their reactions that they don't hear those things very often, if at all.
The only "challenge" I experience is the issue that would never have crossed my mind if I had not encountered it personally, and which directly led me to launch MakeLoveNotPorn with my talk at TED 2009 and the impact of porn as default sex education: porn tropes, and overly "pornified" sexual behavior. In that sense, I am my own research lab for MakeLoveNotPorn, as it were.
I would stress, by the way, that the pornification of sex is not an issue with all the younger men I date, but it is something that I see the impact of more and more over time, in very interesting -- and perturbing -- ways, and it is why MakeLoveNotPorn has been welcomed so much and is so needed, all around the world.
Why do you think there is such a stigma around sex over 50? Why are women so afraid of aging? Why is there a perception that as we age, we become less attractive, whereas men are seen as more attractive?
Popular culture and porn perpetuate the myth that sex is only engaged in, and should only be engaged in, by young, attractive people. Bollocks to that, if you'll forgive my English slang. Also, while I applaud the fact that the spread of "MILF" porn encourages the viewing of older women as sexual beings, a lot of it actually fetishizes older women more than it celebrates us.
Popular culture and sociocultural norms equally perpetuate the myth that women's looks are a primary signifier of our attractiveness in a way that doesn't apply to men, and that undermines women's confidence in how we look from the moment we're born, pretty much. The only way to combat that myth is to actively challenge it. I consider myself a proudly visible member of the most invisible segment of our society: older women. Through the way I live my life, I would like to help redefine what society thinks an older woman should look like, dress like, work like, talk like, be like, and fuck like.
What do you think your challenges (or triumphs) will be with sex over 60, 70, 80?
I haven't the faintest idea. I just intend to keep on having and enjoying sex for as long as I possibly can.
Are you scared of being alone? Are you scared of aging?
No, not in the slightest, to both of those questions. I'm very fond of my own company. And I find the older you get, the better life gets. My life just keeps getting better and better. I'm the happiest person I know.
Anything else you want to add?
I would like to say:
- To all older women out there: know that you're at your most attractive now -- seasoned, interesting, confident. Take that and do something with it. Ideally something that involves having lots of highly enjoyable sex.
- To all older men: you're seasoned, interesting, and confident, too; the same applies.
- To all younger men who are into older women: you have excellent taste.
- To all men generally: there are many more things that are incredibly sexually attractive about you than just your dick.
- To all younger women: don't worry about getting older. It just gets better. But start telling the people you sleep with now what will ensure you that have a really great time in bed. And also tell them how beautiful they are, and which bits of them you adore that aren't their genitals -- which, of course, you adore, as well. That should go without saying.
* * * * *
For anyone interested in specific details about Cindy's views on porn -- and more about her sex life than she thinks you'd ever wanted to know -- you can find them in her short TED e-book Make Love Not Porn: Technology's Hardcore Impact on Human Behavior. The book is also available on iTunes.
Next week I will once again reflect on my personal sex life and share some of my most embarrassing and humorous experiences in the bedroom. Get ready to romp!