Not to open a can of worms, but can we all please start having a grown-up discussion about the sex lives of women over the age of 50?
I know, I know, we're not supposed to discuss ladies of a certain age "getting' some" because it's taboo-ish in the mainstream/entertainment channels of our culture. But it's clear to me that women in the over-50 set (like anyone else) have questions, and while the answers exist, women are not being provided with enough positive role models in the media they're exposed to on a daily basis.
I know this as someone who has worked in PR/marketing communications for women's sexual, reproductive and overall health for years, representing a host of product lines for mature women. But apart from my working life, as someone whose mom has celebrated New Year's more than five dozen times, I've become acutely aware that women her age have more than a pamphlet's worth of questions about their sex lives -- because for lack of other places to turn, I've become the default expert on the subject for my mom's circle of friends.
You know how doctors have such a hard time at social events because there's always someone coming up for a free back pain consultation? Well, that's me at my mom's cocktail parties, except the questioners are all ladies of a certain age, and the subject ain't back pain.
As soon as I -- who they view as an expert in this stuff -- show up, it isn't long before one of the ladies broaches the topic with me. And then I'm surrounded, and the floodgates open.
I get everything from "How long will my hot flashes go on?" to "Is it OK if I want it more than my husband?" Other popular themes include: "When can I expect my libido to die down?" (my answer: "Possibly never,"), "Is it normal for me to daydream about sex?" ("Name something better to daydream about,") and "Some days it's all I want, and some days it's the last thing I want" ("Yes, it's like tomato bisque that way").
Clearly something is up here. The truth is that there are plenty of readily available products for older women -- everything from perfumes and cosmetics to help women feel ready to lubricants and sexual aids that'll help close the deal. And the news media has actually done a respectable job in covering this stuff and putting information out there for women.
The problem, as I see it, is in the way that senior women's sexuality is portrayed in the entertainment media.
The most common way the senior set's sexuality is treated tends to be avoidance. Our pop culture prefers to show the elder generations dancing to Benny Goodman or playing set after set after set of tennis.
On the rare occasion when older women's sexuality is brought up in pop culture channels, it's invariably used as a comic relief, and the women are treated, at best, clownishly.
I'm as much of a fan of Betty White as the next TV watcher, but far too often when a senior lady discusses her sex life on TV, the extent of it amounts to Betty White making some wisecrack about her "big weekend plans" wink wink -- then the audience titters, and everyone moves on.
What I'd like to see instead is a major expansion of the public discussion of sexual health and activity in women over 50, and for us to conduct that discussion with the same respect and deference that the guys get (and they get a lot more than the ladies do).
I would like for the news media to work even harder to get the word out that there are products on the market right now that can make woman of any age feel sexy, desirable and at her best. And let's elevate that discussion by putting more experts on the morning shows to talk about how older women's sexuality is portrayed in the media. Let's add the topic to the national health agenda. And let's ask the news media to start a drumbeat for change that will be heard all the way up in the programming offices of the networks, cable companies and movie studios.
People are living longer; second, third and fourth marriages that occur later in life bring both joys and new puzzles to solve; women are aging more gracefully -- and with more energy -- than ever before. If nothing else, America's older women deserve a seat at the dais while our ongoing national panel discussion about sex takes place.
I'm not saying the discussion shouldn't be fun, and that there isn't a major light side to the mystery of human sexuality. But we need to broaden the portrayal of that mystery to include its more serious aspects as well.
It's our job to get that ball rolling. Our clients can help out a lot of women and themselves along the way by supporting the effort to put more and more accurate information about older women's sexual health and activity into the public space. Because it's not only natural and healthy for older women to have sex. If we treat the subject right, people will see it as sexy too.