If you're back in the game at 50-plus, the prospect of getting naked in front of someone new can be daunting. Turn your age and experience into a benefit, says Linda Franklin for High50
There comes a moment in every potentially romantic relationship when you either strip off and take the plunge or you pass, and let the opportunity go by. The longer the dry spell you've been through, the harder it is to get wet.
If the last time you got laid was in the undemanding deep, deep peace of the double bed, you might feel daunted at the thought of getting back to the hurly burly of the chaise lounge.
It's the same for men as it is for women who find themselves unexpectedly free again, this time minus the youthful bod. But don't despair: if tautness has gone, resources and know-how have increased. In fact, you can find yourself relatively more attractive to the opposite sex when more mature -- compared to the competition -- than you were back in the day.
As my mate Julia put it, if you're trying out someone you have a few years on, give yourself a break and don't be anxious: "Young people these days -- sure they've got youth on their side, but often not much more than that."
One of the most erotic seductions I ever saw was by a ripe Sophia Loren. I can't recall a thing about the film, but I have never forgotten the sight of her getting ready to bed her lover: a kind of teasing strip that was sexy but surprisingly modest and -- in my mind's memory -- she looked amazing in corset, stockings and heels.
Asked in an interview about being this daring, she replied disarmingly that, when you get to a certain age, you know what looks good and what doesn't. A masterclass.
What to wear to look good naked
Keep this pragmatism in mind as you dress for a prospect and reassure yourself that the body that shows the marks of years and childbirth can use silky corsets and stockings to cover faults, while looking sexy and being sexually accessible.
Heels flatter a stockinged leg (and do strange things to men); ditto deep-waisted suspender belts and slips meant for bedroom wear. They not only look great, but feel good too. Don't ever feel silly: if it flatters, it's fine.
The bonus is that, as much of the erotic is about both narcissism and 'otherness', the exotic nature of this costume takes you out of the boring everyday, and gets you in the mood as you prepare.
How men can look good naked
Men also have their routines and rituals. If Ewan is on a promise, he does a full-body exfoliation while in the bath, moisturizes all over, does toenails and calluses, deals with nose hairs and shaves his head.
Bill, who uses tattooing as basic body enhancement, goes to the gym a few times to pump up to ripped status and takes special care with his nails, saying: "A woman once told me that she always clocks the state of a man's nails before they're allowed access to her intimate bits."
The same goes for teeth. Apparently, Clint Eastwood asks his lover as prelude to sex: "Have you flossed?" That story may be apocryphal, but I'm right there with him on that: poor hygiene is the ultimate deal breaker. Ask an acquaintance of mine, who was once left a can of vaginal deodorant with a goodbye note; that kind of thing sticks.
Underwear: be prepared
Preparation is key, clearly. Delia wasn't prepared. But then she didn't expect to find her way to bed that night for the first time with the new guy she'd seen only once before and she likes comfort, so put her smart clothes on over her old bra and kecks. But she got drunk and woke next day in her own bed, with her ghastly grey baggy undies still on, and her clothes by the side, carefully folded -- by him.
Jane, who is so particular she even applies perfume directly to the punani when preparing for a man, told me: "This new guy stripped off and we were in bed before I knew it and it was great. But when I got up to get wine afterwards, I saw his white pants on the floor, gusset side out... He got coffee and the door."
Most men keep it clean -- and simple. "As long as I've showered and shaved, that's it," says Tom. "But if I'm not ready emotionally, if I find I'm not aroused once in bed or the woman isn't, I'm happy just to share my bed without any demands. That closeness of shared time and intimacy usually puts things right for both of us."
When you dim the lights...
Be clever: if a guy can't get it up, you can think of other things to do rather than just tell him it's OK. Vaginal probiotics keep a girl fresh, not chemical sprays. If a woman is worried about being dry, use nice oils and lubricants at foreplay as part of the turn-on, rather than a ghastly medical application later.
If you need sex toys to get you off, have them on hand and introduce them without drama. We're too wise not to be honest about what we want at this stage.
So do your best to be appealing, then chill. Put on your make-up and perfume, have the music that lights your fire softly playing, keep the place warm, up the turn-on factor with a strategically placed mirror or two, and use flattering scented candles.
Unless you haven't prepared at all, lovers remember the sounds, smells and sensations of pleasure as it all passes in a delightful hormone-enhanced blur. No one is more forgiving than an aroused lover who's right for you.
Don't be scared; be grateful. You're free to have some great sex again: lucky you!