SPECIAL FROM Next Avenue
By Barbara McNally
After my grandmother passed away at 92, my mother and I came upon a collection of photographs among her effects — of 70-year-old Grandma Pat baring her breasts, wearing not much more than feathers and furs.
My mother was horrified. I was inspired.
I was struck by Grandma Pat’s boldness and how happy she looked in the photos. She was not a woman encumbered with worries about what others might think, nor waiting for someone to give her a blessing.
Grandma Pat had been a flapper and suffragette, and later a vaudeville performer — a vibrant and passionate woman, nicknamed “Cat Eyes” by my grandfather. In contrast, I had just gotten out of a deeply dependent marriage and was now trying to navigate my post-divorce freedom.
As I’ve dated in my 40s and 50s, I’ve looked to Grandma Pat as my inspiration to be free-spirited and passionate — and enjoy my newfound sexuality. And thanks to those experiences, I’ve been enlightened with a discovery: sexuality is like a fine wine — it really does get better as we age.
Longer Lives Mean Longer Sex Lives
I think we’re currently experiencing a renaissance in health and wellness and are seeing it extend into the bedroom. We can still have sensational sex lives well into our 70s and beyond. And we do — studies show that more than 50 percent of those 55+ are sexually active.
Marketers certainly recognize that older adults are full of vitality. Lingerie brands, sexual enhancers, retreat offerings, yoga classes and the film industry all capitalize on those who are young at heart.
Online dating sites now also cater to those over 50. And they’re thriving because there are plenty of opportunities to meet that special someone (or simply enjoy a special night).
Grandma Pat was an early adapter to dating in one’s older years. I met the boyfriends she traveled with after my grandfather passed — there were plenty of them, most much younger than she was. I think she probably would’ve quoted Mae West, “I’m no angel, but I’ve spread my wings a bit.”
Sexuality Is Alive And Well
As I’ve reflected on how to live a bold, passionate and sensual life, I’ve had five thoughts on the ways sexuality is alive and well in our sweet-spot years:
1. Sex is correlated with liberation, vitality and vigor, and we become most comfortable with that liberated part of ourselves as we pass through our 50s. I mean, imagine if at age 20 you knew about sex what you know now.
2. What is the biggest sex organ? The mind. The thoughts that take up our minds are reflected in our sexual attitude. And at this point, our imagination has had a lot of practice. Sophia Loren said it best: “Sex appeal is 50 percent what you’ve got and 50 percent what people think you’ve got.”
Some people are old at 20 and others are young at 80. We don’t stop playing when we get old; we get old because we stop playing.
3. Intimacy will always be a human instinct. When we were children, we wanted to be held. When we grew to care for someone as adults, we still wanted to be held. This desire never leaves us, even if we're to live to be 120. You will always have intimate desires that you want fulfilled.
4. It’s what the doctor ordered. If you’re tired of an apple a day, hit the sheets and play. Healthy sex means better health. It helps stabilize our immune system, blood pressure, bladder control and risk for heart attack. And yes, sex does count as exercise!
5. Worrying less is a big advantage. Without the concern of potential pregnancies, many postmenopausal women find they enjoy sex more. Thanks to Viagra, men of any age have less to worry about, too.
So can you freely enjoy sex as you age? The answer is an obvious "yes." We all want to hang on to our liberation, vitality and vigor as long as possible — and our sexuality might just be the key.
Barbara McNally is the author of Unbridled: A Memoir and the founder of Mother Lover Fighter Sage foundation. Visit her website at unbridledfreedom.com and follow her on Twitter @liveunbridled or on Facebook.