Intimacy in Later Life: Is It Really All That Different?

Intimacy in Later Life. Photo of a grey-haired man kissing his middle aged female partner on a beach.An old friend got in touch not long ago to tell me she was working on a memoir. She was writing about what it was like to start dating in her mid-40’s, after ending a long, largely sexless marriage. She asked me to take a look at an early draft.

I was expecting stories of lame pickup lines, mediocre pasta dinners with would-be suitors and long walks in comfy cardigans. Instead, I found myself reading frank and detailed accounts of sex clubs…threesomes…and, well…fit. (Yeah, that kind of fit.) In short, her memoir wasn’t so much about dating as it was about sex.

The manuscript was raw and refreshing. My first thought was “Wow, she’s really putting herself out there! She’s so brave!” It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I questioned my initial reaction. Why should sexual experimentation—and enjoyment—be considered bold in midlife? Why did I immediately think her story sounded more suited to that of a 20-something than a middle-aged woman?

There’s an obvious answer to that question. The narrative we’ve long been fed in both popular culture and research about dating and intimacy among “older adults” (which usually means over-50) tends to centre on physical decline, compromised function and loneliness.

That narrative is changing.

The Viagra revolution helped to reinvigorate conversations around the sex lives of the (cough) “elderly.” The hit reality TV series, The Golden Bachelor, about the romantic escapades of a 72-year-old widower, has also done its part to combat stereotypes about ageing and sex. More recently, Cosmopolitan magazine and the Kinsey Institute teamed up to showcase the results of a survey they conducted about women over 60 and their sexual mores. “Yes, women over 60 still masturbate!” could have been the strapline.

This is all to the good. I worry, however, that in our effort to publicise these stories of mid- and late-life sex, we’re in danger of ghettoizing the very people we’re seeking to celebrate. The truth is, “older” people seeking romance and intimacy ain’t all that different from the rest of us. At least, that’s what the data are telling us.

Read the rest of this piece over at This Curious Life

Image: Photo by Esther Ann on Unsplash

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