We were in a cafe a few days ago, my friend and I, when our laughter made a nearby group of teenagers turn around. ‘Ugh,’ I heard one of them whisper. ‘They’re talking about sex. At their age!’
Her expression of pained disgust left us, both sixtysomethings, in no doubt about her feelings on the subject.
Our discussion, a post-mortem of my friend’s ‘night before’, had ventured into territory assumed to belong exclusively in a world inhabited by the young and beautiful. A world off limits to anyone of my advanced age.
However, like it or not, a recent survey found that the optimal age for sex among single women is 66.
Although, in my experience, I’d say the best sex is to be found within a long and trusting relationship whatever your age, a healthy sex drive in your 60s is really not unusual. And whatever your circumstances, I think sex at this age is absolutely great.
I speak as someone who met her beloved husband — Bob, the love of my life — when I was 19. And, having spent my teens dabbling in the heady world of casual relationships, I then discovered the difference between simply having sex and making love. And what a difference!
Deborah Dooley (pictured): Like it or not, a recent survey found that the optimal age for sex among single women is 66
During our three-decades-long relationship, I learnt the value and pleasure of a trusting and close relationship. The importance of being able to laugh, cry and give and receive the kind of pleasure I hadn’t really known existed. When he died suddenly in 2016, just three months after his 65th birthday, it was as if a limb had been torn from my body.
Sex had been a very important part of our relationship. We always had time for each other, right through the baby years and when our three children, now grown, were tiny.
One of the things I missed desperately about the Bob-shaped gap in my life was the lack of physical intimacy. I had lost so much already — did I have to lose that, too?
Even though I am 63 and about to become a grandmother, I was not ready to let that part of my life go.
It took nearly three years before I felt ready to give a new relationship a try. He was the friend of a friend who had known Bob casually through work. And no, it didn’t feel ‘wrong’ or disrespectful to my husband at all: Bob was never the kind of person who would want anyone to feel guilt on his behalf.
The sex, although enjoyable, was average to middling. After sleeping with the same man for 35 years, having a totally different body lying next to mine felt strange: Bob was tall, slim and fit, while my new lover was much stockier.
Ultimately, I told myself, my expectations would have to alter. I had been incredibly fortunate to have had a long and loving relationship which encompassed a fulfilling and loving sex life; and while this was unlikely to be repeated, I could possibly build a different but equally satisfying level of intimacy.
Of course I would like the whole package again: love, marriage, security, closeness and a fizzing sex life on tap. But given the choice of all that or a sexual desert, I’ll willingly compromise.
After all, there is no feeling in the world comparable to that of snuggling up to another body. The intimacy of skin on skin. The closeness of midnight murmurings as you lie, limbs entwined, smiling secretly at the recent memory of pleasures enjoyed.
The intensity of sensations like no other that will always be there, waiting for the next time you choose to rediscover them. And you glow.
Although, in my experience, I’d say the best sex is to be found within a long and trusting relationship whatever your age, a healthy sex drive in your 60s is really not unusual. And whatever your circumstances, I think sex at this age is absolutely great. Pictured: File image of Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour
I can always tell when women are having sex regularly. There is a radiance to their complexion that can’t be bottled. A spring in their step, a sharpness about them.
And, indeed, when I embarked on that first relationship after Bob died, a very dear friend asked me if I’d had sex (I had).
‘I can tell,’ she said.
I didn’t need to look in the mirror to know that I glowed. I felt beautiful, desired, cherished — all the things that make women exude sexiness and confidence. And more than that, I was aware for the first time in ages that my body was my friend. That it was there not just to work for me but as a source of pleasure and joy.
Experts agree that sex is good for you physically and emotionally. Sex is good exercise — and a study by Dr David Weeks at The Royal Edinburgh Hospital found that people who have sex up to three times a week can look up to ten years younger than those who make love less frequently.
It may keep your brain sharp, too: after interviewing about 2,000 people in their 70s, scientists in the Netherlands found that those who considered sex unimportant scored lower in problem-solving tests than those who thought sex was important.
As with any study of this kind, it is difficult to say whether the way people think about sex causes their brains to stay healthy.
An alternative explanation would be that people in relationships are more likely to consider sex important, and it is actually someone’s relationship status that influences the health of their brain.
Regardless, it’s fascinating.
Although that first relationship after Bob fizzled out after a few months, I have had a couple of lovers since and I am still determined to enjoy sex as much as I ever did.
While I know I’ll never again have the intimacy I had with Bob, I will always hope for something similar. The feeling of arms around me, growing slowly into a searching embrace, preparing to take our newfound closeness to the next stage. A lengthy gaze loaded with promise, the soft-lipped kiss of a would-be lover.
For anyone citing age, tiredness and consequent low libido as a reason for a rubbish sex life, I challenge the parents among us to cast their minds back to the exhaustion of the early days of parenthood — endless broken nights and the ever-present need to attend to the hunger, hygiene and tactile needs of a small person.
Deborah likened her friend describing striking up a new flame as a Shirley Valentine moment. Pictured: A scene from the film Shirley Valentine
Compare that feeling with that of a well rested, freshly bathed and anointed body. Have a glass of wine (just one), snuggle up to your beloved and enjoy a few hours of lovemaking. Now tell me sex is so much better when you’re young.
There are other pluses to sex in your 60s. When I think of my hypercritical appraisal of my pert-breasted thirtysomething naked reflection, I could weep. In my case, it was the love of a good man and his open appreciation that taught me to love myself.
Now, however, it is simply the confidence that comes with age. And also a feeling of . . . well, if you don’t like what you see, chaps, then look elsewhere.
As we grow older, we are likely to be bolder and more likely to experiment. And this in turn leads to more enjoyment and more confidence — a rather delicious circle of intimacy that just keeps on getting better.
A dear friend of mine, divorced for over 20 years, fell head over heels in love — and lust — at 66, recently.
‘The first time we slept together, he told me how beautiful I was naked,’ she confided, eyes sparkling. And then, in a superbly Shirley Valentine-esque moment, she leaned in and whispered, ‘You know that saggy bit around the top of your thighs?’
I had to reluctantly agree that I did indeed know that area.
Tinder and the like isn’t for me, but if you’re a sixtysomething who feels drawn to dating sites, then why not? (stock image)
‘Well, he stroked it. For ages!’
Two years later, this couple are happy and very much in love. My friend tells me her sex life has never been better. She has also counselled me to expect nothing less — and she is right to.
According to a 2013 survey, 71 per cent of over-50s report having a good sex life. That is up from 65 per cent in 2007, with post-menopausal women saying they become aroused faster and more easily than when they were younger. And as any sixtysomething woman with a regular sex life will tell you, this is due largely to insecurities lessening and confidence growing.
‘Now I know that I’m just as entitled as anyone else to have an amazing sex life,’ said another acquaintance of mine recently, ‘even though I’m not young and gorgeous. And as a result, it has become even better.’
This particular friend also lost her husband some years ago and has coped with her grown-up children’s obvious distaste for her rediscovered enthusiasm for sex by simply explaining to them that, as well as being their mother, she is still a vibrant woman with desires. And because, as she says, they love her and want her to be happy, they have accepted this.
Sarah McCloughry is a psychotherapist with a particular interest in women’s sexual health. She says: ‘Women in their 60s have inevitably grown to know their bodies very well. And they have come to terms with the fact that being less than perfect — as we all are — should be no barrier to enjoying a fulfilling sex life. For which, being the age I am, I give frequent thanks.’
Freed from society’s expectations and our own self-imposed expectations, there really is no reason why people in their 60s should not enjoy a healthy sex life. If it feels good, do it, says Sarah. ‘And try not to let anyone else’s perceptions of who should be doing what at any age affect your decisions on how to live your life.’
One of the things Bob taught me is that humour is one of the greatest aphrodisiacs. He taught me to give in to the urge to giggle at certain moments during sex — something that many might believe to be unromantic or ‘spoiling the mood’.
One of the undoubted bonuses of getting older is that you have developed an awareness of your own body, combined with the confidence to actually talk about what you like. Naturally, this increases enjoyment and sensation.
The warm memory of that first sexual encounter after Bob had gone is still very much with me — the joy of discovery combined with the bitter sweetness of what I’d lost. It may be that I never fall in love again. But I hope to enjoy good sex and companionship for many years to come.
In fact, I don’t just hope, I expect that to be the case. Tinder and the like isn’t for me, but if you’re a sixtysomething who feels drawn to dating sites, then why not? Whatever works for you. Remember, there is nothing wrong with simply enjoying sex for its own sake.
Even without the many facts and figures that tell us regular sex is good for us in all kinds of ways, I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that I remain a sexual being. Sex is good for you. And it feels good. It is part of being healthy and happy, whatever your age.
And it shows.