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Sex: does it fizzle or sizzle with age?

There are two popular views of ageing and sex. One is that after menopause it’s all over. The other is that sex is critical to healthy ageing and if we’re not practicing it we’re not normal. 

But in contrast to this black and white picture, Australian research on older women and sex shows ‘normal’ to be a very mixed bag. 

On one hand, a lot of older women say they don’t like their older bodies, and they find it hard to let go of the idea that only the young and beautiful are sexually attractive.

On the other, many think that having a healthy, functional body matters far more than what it looks like. And despite their wrinkly, saggy bits, their partners find them appealing and sex is good. 

Some women say they don’t have much libido and don’t regard sex as all that important any more. Others say that age has given them more confidence, so with the kids gone and contraception a thing of the past, they’re having the best sex of their lives.

‘Normal’ lives in all these places and there’s no wrong place as long as we’re happy where we are. 

If we’re in relationships, sex is something to negotiate with partners. For some women, the greatest difficulty can be discussing change with male partners who struggle to reconcile themselves with it.

If we're single, having no partner doesn't have to mean sacrificing our sense of ourselves as sexual beings either. It's up to us as to what we want. 

A valuable book on sex and ageing is Marie de Hennezel's Sex After Sixty. That's her in the photo.

She’s a 70-year-old Parisian psychologist who has written several books on ageing, and I think there’s a lot we can learn from the European approach to getting older. They embrace it rather than fighting it.

Sex is part of the French joie de vivre. While French men and women have the same diversity of views that we do on sex, they live in a culture that lives and breathes pleasure and enjoyment — and that makes a difference. 

Marie de Hennezel describes a gentler, slower (and in many cases, richer and more satisfying) approach to sex in older age. 

As we and our bodies age and change, sex does too. And like most things, it's a lot more grey than black and white.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017 | Rhonda Anderson