You really CAN have the best sex of your life after 60: Felicity Kendal caused uproar this week by saying ‘physicality’ IS still important at 74. Here, two writers share their own eye-popping confessions
- Felicity Kendal said earlier this week ‘physicality’ is important in relationships
- Liz Jones said the menopause was a passport to a new golden age of naughtiness
- Said she doesn’t care what men think now but used to fake orgasms for husband
- Jane Gordon, on the other hand, is reluctant to embrace sex in her mid-60s
- Said sex, as wonderful as it has been in the past, is now just a fading memory
It’s almost unsayable. Unthinkable, even: that couples in their 60s, 70s and even 80s are enjoying great, mind-blowing sex. It is 50 shades of grey. Literally.
Why am I even bringing this topic up? Shouldn’t I be writing about the fact that, aged 62, I’ve taken up knitting, baking and armchair yoga? A bit of companionable hand-holding. Separate bedrooms. A floor-length nightgown with a pie-crust collar and a hot-water bottle.
Well, we can blame Felicity Kendal, the acceptable face of sexuality in the Seventies as Barbara Good in The Good Life, but who earlier this week was quoted thus: ‘Physicality is so important. I don’t think things change because you are older. I know from couples my age that sex is as important to them as it always was.’
Yes! Yes! Yes!
You might need reminding that Ms Kendal is 74. Her partner is 82. You might already be forming ageist jokes in your head at this news: creaking hips, the fact both probably wear hearing aids, so will doubtless have to talk dirty very very loudly indeed. Spectacles will be steaming up.
Liz Jones said the menopause was a passport to a new golden age of naughtiness and that she now doesn’t care what men think of her, while she used to fake an orgasm for her husband
But I am here to tell you that sex as an older woman has been a revelation. And I cannot help but wonder: why did no one tell me there was so much to look forward to?
I need first to explain what sex was like in my 20s, 30s and 40s. In my 20s, I was riddled with self-doubt, in awe of fashion magazines that told me I had to be perfect in order to be loved.
I needed to be thin, perfectly dressed, tanned, toned. I went to endless exercise classes. I engaged in the War Against Superfluous Hair. A battle I was always going to lose. I was either hairy, or speckled like a plucked hen from the endless electrolysis and waxing.
The small window when I deemed myself vaguely acceptable to be seen naked in a darkened room was narrow, and rarely coincided with an actual date. No surprise, then, that I didn’t have sex until I was 32 years old.
Oh, the expectation! The suspense! I had built up the encounter in my head to a point where no man could measure up. And, of course, he didn’t.
I was so terrified, I didn’t tell him what I needed to turn me on. Or when to stop. Or that he was kneeling on my hair: Ow! Or that it was doing nothing for me. I felt only that I should be grateful.
All he did was comment that there was so much knocking on my bones, given I was so painfully thin, he felt ‘like a waiter trying to deliver room service’.
I pretty much didn’t attempt sex again until my 40s, which is when I met my future husband, then in his late 20s.
Although I felt more accomplished in my career and had more to say over dinner, what should have been a halcyon period became a source of horrendous conflict.
I felt apologetic for being so much older and would agree to sex even when exhausted from my high-pressure job. He, I’m sure, thought I was desperate to steal his sperm for a last chance at being a mum (he was right, I was).
But we stopped having sex. He started cheating. We got divorced and as I was nearing 50, I doubted I would ever have sex again.
It was a relief, in many ways. The bedroom again became my retreat, not a battleground.
My body became my own business. I could grow old gracefully. Retire from the frankly exhausting arena of relationships.
And then I met my last, long-term boyfriend, when I was 57. He was older than me by almost a decade and desire for me oozed from his every pore, which as we know is the greatest aphrodisiac of all. He couldn’t believe his luck.
Felicity Kendal was the acceptable face of sexuality in the Seventies as Barbara Good in The Good Life and said earlier this week: ‘Physicality is so important. I don’t think things change because you are older. I know from couples my age that sex is as important to them as it always was’
It helped, of course, that I had by now gone through the menopause. You know how women are conditioned to believe that every stage of their life is a Huge Problem? Puberty, motherhood, ageing and going through The Change? Well, for me, the menopause was a passport to a new golden age of naughtiness.
My guess is that most women of my generation and above will have had a rather more conventional love life than I have. Perhaps married in their 20s and settled for decades with the same man.
That, of course, brings its own challenges — of over-familiarity, boredom, or simply a complete waning of desire after sleeping next to the same man for so long. But I can tell you whatever sexual ‘journey’ you have had, once you get to your 60s, there is no reason to give up. But it is up to you to grasp the opportunities.
I refuse to be a victim of this stage in my life. Far from it. I no longer care what people, particularly men, think of me. While I was married, I would fake an orgasm to please my husband, and also to please make it stop.
Well, in my late 50s, I took control. I told my boyfriend what I needed; I think at one point there were diagrams and even a pie chart.
I told him, often with a hard shove, if something really wasn’t working for me. I would never, ever have been so bold at any other stage of my life.
Best of all, there is nothing ‘desiccated’ about sex as an older woman.
Older men take their time, which helps. They tend to be more considerate, since they are immensely grateful.
And as an older man, his ego wasn’t fragile. He listened — no, not using an ear trumpet — and learned. And for his part, I am sure the fact he was having sex with a woman who didn’t want anything in return — a child, marriage, a house — was the ultimate turn-on.
When I was married, we would go for nine months without sex. In comparison, when I was half of an older couple, we had sex every single time we met up. In fact, the one time I didn’t want to do it was when I was about to go into the Big Brother House the next morning, was sick with nerves, and was trying to read in bed to take my mind off it.
Even so, he still felt rejected and affronted.
Which leads me nicely to the only drawback of older sex: the honeymoon disease. Infections like cystitis are far more rampant as we age. But, being older, there is no shame in using alternative means.
Now that I am having sex in my 60s, I wonder why there is such a conspiracy of silence about older sex. I still have mad crushes, exactly as I did as a teenager, the only difference being that David Cassidy has been usurped by the TV chef Marcus Wareing.
The only film I can think of with seventysomethings having a great time in bed is the recent 23 Walks, starring Alison Steadman who, just like Felicity Kendal, is 74. The scene where she gets naked made me want to punch the air and wonder what revelations the next ten years have in store.
I feel robbed, really, given the year of lockdown. As Ms Kendal says, ‘It’s the lack of years we have left I resent. Physicality is so important. Not being able to physically touch people is a deprivation, as we’ve discovered during the pandemic.’
So if you still want to indulge in 50 shades of grey, creak your limbs into a pretzel and have the time of your life. You only get one, after all.
Jane Gordon said that the calm of my life now, as a post-menopausal woman, is so preferable, to me, than going back to the emotionally fraught and often truly miserable times when I was in thrall to my hormones and desperate for ‘true’ love
Felicity and her pals will be getting some real health benefits, says Jane Gordon
Way back in the Seventies, Felicity Kendal was the kind of natural, girl-next-door beauty I longed to be. In the sitcom The Good Life, she perfected a kind of wholesome sexiness that was alluring to men, but didn’t alienate women.
Gamine and gorgeous, she made dungarees look desirable and became a refreshing role model for a generation of women weary of the Playboy (boobs and bums) culture of the time.
But hang on a minute — well actually, about 50 years — and time seems to have stood worryingly still for the woman I adored back then.
Now in her 70s, Felicity is offering my generation a message that is more depressing than refreshing. This week — in the pages of Saga magazine no less — the actress has revealed how important ‘physicality’ is for her and her 82-year-old ‘boyfriend’ Michael Rudman. Felicity goes on to tell us that for other couples in her social circle ‘sex is as important to them as it always was’. Swinging from the chandeliers in your 70s? No thank you, Felicity.
On all sorts of levels, this revelation is a huge mistake. For a start, if the idea of your parents having sex is disturbing to children, how shocking must it be to grandchildren? Knowing what Granny and Grandpa get up to under the sheets is, frankly, TMI. What on earth might Felicity’s (at the last count) 12 grandchildren make of her latest confession?
What worries me most, though, is the suggestion that I will not only have to attempt to look as trim and artificially youthful as Felicity (who has admitted to Botox and fillers in the past, but denies having surgery) when I hit my 70s, I will also have to work my way through the Kama Sutra.
At 65, the thought of putting on a pair of zebra-print nipple tassels, stockings, suspenders and stilettos in an attempt to finally discover my G-spot is as unimaginable as flying to the Moon on Elon Musk’s starship.
Maybe my reluctance to embrace sex in my mid-60s is linked to the fact that I never was what you could term a ‘sexual athlete’. I have only ever had two boyfriends (unlike Felicity who has been married twice and had ‘affairs when I wanted’).
I married my first boyfriend and 25 years later divorced and then met my second. Since parting from No 2 — a decade ago — I have been more or less happily sleeping as a single in my king-size bed.
Of course I miss the physical closeness of a partner and yes living alone is not something I would have voluntarily chosen, but there have been compensations during those years — chiefly the arrival of a granddaughter giving me a new and exciting role in life as I grow older. Sex, as wonderful as it can be and has been in the past, is now just a fading memory for me.
And while I do still secretly harbour a fantasy of one day finding my prince, a brief foray into online dating has confirmed to me that this is never likely to become a reality. There were no princes on the ‘mature’ site I went on, just a lot of rather dull elderly men who were more in need of a carer than a partner.
But there are, I have to admit, some pretty sound scientific studies that suggest that what Felicity and her friends are doing (but I am not) will be giving them some real health benefits. One study found that older women with ‘satisfying’ sex lives had lower blood pressure, and the North American Menopause Society asserts that regular sex is good for vaginal health in post-menopausal women as it improves blood flow and keeps pelvic muscles toned, lessening the need for all those discreet Tena-Lady products.
Jane added that there are some pretty sound scientific studies that suggest that what Felicity and her friends are doing (but she is not) will be giving them some real health benefits (stock photo)
In fact, as I discovered while conducting exhaustive research for my book How Not To Get Old, there are an awful lot of advantages to maintaining Felicity’s enjoyment of sex for as long as possible.
The female orgasm, it turns out, is not only useful as a sleep aid and an anti-depressant, it is also frightfully good for the ageing brain. Researchers at Rutgers University in the U.S. asked female volunteers to achieve orgasm in an MRI machine that measured blood flow to the brain. They concluded that ‘mental exercises increase brain activity but only in relatively localised regions. Orgasm activates the whole brain.’
This revelation prompted me —just before the pandemic hit — to undertake a masterclass in orgasm held at the London-based women-only sex shop SH!. Thankfully this didn’t involve removing any items of clothing although it did expose me, and my 20 or so classmates, to some pretty scary sights. In the terrifying two-hour session, we were shown an anatomically correct glove puppet called Ruby Vulva, a giant model clitoris and a selection of eye-watering sex aids, some of which had Smartphone controls and glowed in the dark.
At the end of the lesson, we were offered a small discount on any of the varied merchandise in the store. Strangely, for once I was able to hold back on my lust for retail therapy, turning down the chance to buy a Tickle Feather Stick (‘Sensual wands for teasing and stroking’) or a (vegan) edible condom.
Nor was I drawn to the torturous-looking clothing — studded basques, thongs and big balcony bras. I was, needless to say, a bit of a failure at Felicity’s ‘physicality’.
But then, I am rather in agreement with a quote attributed to Sophocles that suggests that one of the advantages of old age is not having sex. ‘To my great delight I have escaped from it, and feel as if I had escaped from a frantic and savage master.’
While he meant the male, rather than the female, libido, it seems equally relevant to how I feel in the 21st century.
The calm of my life now, as a post-menopausal woman, is so preferable, to me, than going back to the emotionally fraught and often truly miserable times when I was in thrall to my hormones and desperate for ‘true’ love.
She is reluctant to embrace sex in her mid-60s and said that sex, as wonderful as it has been in the past, is now just a fading memory
Remaining sexually alluring to men in your 70s must surely involve a great deal of tedious, time-consuming work and, doubtless, a permanent prescription for HRT (something I have assiduously resisted).
In her 60s, Felicity — who vehemently denies having had surgery — did confess that her then-youthful look was ‘not entirely natural, it’s a lot of work’. And really, with each passing year mustn’t it become a harder and harder task to still look like that gamine girl?
At a time when the whole world is becoming more and more ‘anti’ ageing, women in their 50s, 60s and 70s are put under so much pressure to hold back the years that they are in danger of becoming tied to a ‘frantic and savage master’ for their entire lives.
A master that makes them fearful of putting on any weight (Felicity no longer talks of dieting, but remembers ‘starving myself in my early 20s’) and terrified of displaying any of the more natural traits of later life, most particularly laughter lines.
I have no intention of growing a moustache (which would be very easy) or giving up on an attempt to look good. I love make-up, I love dressing up and I hope to remain as close to attractive as I can when I am 74.
But I am not going to waste the good years I have ahead of me pursuing the impossible ideal of eternal youth in a bid to find someone (apart from my dog and my cat) to share my bed.
In fact the person I most want to emulate as I grow older is no longer the faux-girlish Felicity but the full-on, grown-up woman that is Jane Fonda. Questioned last week on whether or not, at 82, she was still having sex she replied that she didn’t have ‘time’ for it.
‘I’m old and I’ve had so much of it. I don’t need it right now because I’m too busy.’
Still relevant, still stunning and still looking forward in her life (rather than backward).
How Not To Get Old: One Woman’s Quest To Take Control Of The Ageing Process by Jane Gordon (£14.99, Trapeze) is out now.
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