How important is sex in middle age?
It depends on who you talk to. During the past seven years while doing research for my book on middle age men, I’ve talked to dozens of guys about this topic.
Generally, the answers given by married men were pretty consistent. It’s us, the guys, they said. It’s much lower on their wives’ priority lists, they said.
“Definitely me,” said a buddy of mine. “I never turn it down.”
Much to my surprise, when I talked to divorced or widowed men out on the middle age dating scene, I often got a different answer.
It’s the women, they say. They said many middle age women out there are surprisingly aggressive about sex and getting into bed early on in the dating process.
Talk about alternative realities.
Author/Gail Sheehey, in her book, Sex and the Seasoned Woman – Pursuing the Passionate Life (Random House, 2006), reported on the “surge of vitality in women’s sex and love lives after fifty.” On her website, she notes the book “is the story of an intimate revolution taking place under our very noses.”
A 2008 study on marriage and divorce done by the American Association of Retired Persons shows, according to an Associated Press story, that “Americans 45 and older are far more open to sex outside of marriage than they were 10 years ago, but they’re engaging in sex less often and with less satisfaction (within their marriages).”
The lack of sex, or the diminished desire to do it, is I feel more a symptom of what’s going on in a relationship than anything else. In general, guys are guys. We have testosterone pumping through our veins and sex just seems to always be on our radar screen.
My sense is that middle age women need and want the physical intimacy that sex provides. However, they often seem to have greater demands on their lives and time. In many households they’re the ones multi-tasking—often committed to full-time employment, taking on the lion’s share of child-rearing responsibilities, organizing the household—and in many cases, managing the finances. That’s a lot to put on anyone’s plate and at times they may be just too tired or distracted when sex is added to the mix.
Some couples, though, say with a straight face that sex is not necessary to have a happy, satisfying marriage. That may be true for people and there may be medical circumstances involved. However, my gut feeling is that such a situation is untenable for many. I’ve got to believe most sexless marriages leave at least one partner frustrated.
I believe the physical intimacy that sex provides is a crucial element for many marriages. If may sound a little harsh, but if you take sex out of your marriage it seems to me you’d be less like a husband and wife and more like glorified roommates.
Like everything else, though, there are no hard and fast rules or situations. A letter in the “Dear Amy” advice column of the newspaper I work for featured a letter jointly signed by members of a female book club who wrote they “consistently get berated (jokingly, of course) by our husbands for having low libidos.”
“We have all been married 15-plus years, and the irony is that we’d love to be intimate with our husbands, but they have killed it for us.”
The letter goes on to note how the husbands often exhibit tacky or unattractive personal habits in front of them (picking their teeth, or nose) and over the years have made themselves less attractive by gaining “enormous weight …from gluttonous meals and boozy behavior.”
Amy addresses the ladies concerns point by point and ends with simple, but sage advice. She notes that continued intimacy in marriage hinges on “good, honest and respectful communication.”
The single, middle-age scene, like I’ve already said, is an alternative reality.
Before I go any further, I should say that I have not interviewed any single middle age women about this subject and my conclusions are based more on what my gut tells me and what I’ve read.
Divorced guys I’ve interviewed have told me there seems to be a growing number of single, middle age women (with or without children) out there on the dating scene who aren’t seeking marriage or a serious relationship. Recent stories on this point confirm this, namely that for the first time in American history there’s slightly more unmarried women out there than married ones.
Hanna Rosin, in her 2010 Atlantic magazine piece, The End of Men and the Rise of Women, noted another new development: namely that women have become the majority by a slight margin in the full-time, workforce. Many managers are now women. For every two men who earned a college degree last year, three women did the same, Rosin reported.
The bottom line is that the old stereotype of middle age single women needing to marry or remarry for financial security is fading. It comes down to economics. Many can afford to be picky. They don’t need the guy’s pay check. They have the financial security of their full-time jobs, along with a good support system of female friends and/or family.
This reluctance of middle age women to seek marriage or a serious relationship may also stem from the fact that they were burned or abused in a previous relationship. Or, that they simply are not willing to devote a large part of their time and energy to a man.
However, there’s no doubt these middle age women want, and need physical intimacy.
All these factors, along the convenience provided by internet dating, has resulted in the growing phenomenon of having “friends with benefits” – that is dating or scheduling dates with the promise of sex, and little or no commitment involved, Rosin and others have noted.
So, what about us married guys? As advice columnist Amy advised to the book club ladies, there’s no substitute to having open, candid conversations with your partner about your needs and hers.
If things have gotten stale or circumstances have put things on hold in your sex life, my advice is to take positive action. Take the attitude that “It won’t happen unless I do it.” Discuss the situation soon as possible with your wife or girlfriend and do your best to listen (I can’t stress that enough) to what your partner is saying.
Afterward, be committed to making some changes in your attitude and behaviors. Make time for intimacy. Schedule a romantic, overnight getaway to break free from the distractions of work and kids.
“Sadly, some couples can’t even begin to have that conversation. That’s the way it was in my first marriage,” according to one guy I interviewed.
My wife and I have had that conversation, and continue to keep communication lines open on the topic.
During one of those conversations I asked her, “You think we’ll still be ‘doing it’ in our 70s and 80s?”
“I hope so,” she said.
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