Maria: Yes I get sex and I get enough sex and I get a lot of sex and I'm happy with sex and I love sex and I'm happy to talk with you about your sex life but I don't want to talk about mine.
Researcher: Do you think they were surprised to hear that?
Maria: Yes, I think they're very surprised to hear that. I think that there is this concept that women dry up, that they become the Sahara Desert down there, that you reach menopause and that is the end of your life because not only are you kind of losing the muscle tone and the rest of it but you become fucking bat shit.(1)
Welcome to Maria, a lively midlife woman enrolled at a university with a predominantly younger cohort, students in their 20s and 30s. Maria was a participant in a research study I conducted on adults who had experienced a here-to-fore anecdotal phenomenon called Sexual Invisibility (SI). SI, at that time, was defined as a perception that one is no longer a sexual being and additionally as a feeling that others no longer regarded one as a sexual being.
Maria spoke of hanging out with young women in her cohort. These women would casually talk about their sex lives, all the time excluding Maria even as she sat amongst them. She reported that one time she noticed the group look towards her and then away as they were circling from woman to woman with sexual anecdotes. That was Maria's proverbial last straw, prompting her blurtation (sic).
Maria went on to say that this treatment was not just limited to the younger women in her class:
There have been a couple of times when younger male students have talked about women in my presence where I don't think they would have when I was younger, so kind of like she's not in the game anymore or at least in our game so we can say whatever we want in front of her (1).
Maria's report may illustrate the notion that, for some parts of the population, midlife and older adults are not considered to be sexual beings any longer. They are not perceived as being in the game anymore, so much so that these younger students took no notice of Maria, feeling free to speak in front of her as if she were not there, in effect turning Maria invisible.
Thus, Maria hit on another aspect of SI this researcher had not considered; the effects of menopause upon Sexual Invisibility.
Theresa, another participant, also spoke to her experience with menopause and Sexual Invisibility, albeit with a different perspective:
The general feeling is once you go through menopause your general sex drive decreases and I definitely found that to be true and I think the amount of sex drive you have is related to how you perceive yourself as a sexual being.... I felt that when I lost so much of my sex drive that I kind of stopped broadcasting myself as a sexual being which in turn made others not to relate to me in that way. I think maybe that on a subliminal level people pick up on the energy you broadcast and respond accordingly. So yes, I could feel times when others were not treating me as a sexual being, but for me it was just a kind of mirroring of what I was presenting to them (1).
While Theresa speaks to a natural biological process that says yes my sex drive has decreased and it is affecting the way I perceive of myself as a sexual being and how others see me, Maria seems to rail against that notion. Maria describes her experience with menopause as a process that, in its aftermath, left others with a perception of her as a non-sexual being, while she continues to unequivocally embrace her sexuality as a biological birthright.
Theresa suggests that Sexual Invisibility is a biological by-product of a natural lessening of sexuality in older adults and additionally that one may somehow project or broadcast energies and feelings at a subconscious level that contribute to the perceptions and treatment of them by others?
Maria, on the other hand, may not go so gently into that goodnight (2). She considers Sexual Invisibility as a cultural bias being exacted on her.
This subset of the effects of menopause upon Sexual Invisibility is complicated. It not only speaks to the discussion of biological vs. environmental attributes of SI, but to possible elevations of the effect due to gender. Put more simply: are women more affected by Sexual Invisibility than men?
And that, ladies and gentleman, is another conversation for another time.
(1) Robert Lusson, 2013. Invisible: Sexual Invisibility and Baby Boomers http://search.proquest.com/docview/1399181791
(2) Dylan Thomas, 1937. Do not go gentle into that good night
Dr. Robert Lusson is a Clinical Psychologist currently living and working in Los Angeles, Ca. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org