The “mid-life crisis” is a well-known phenomenon, often involving snazzy new sports cars, extra-marital affairs, or other impulsive and rash departures from the norm.
Could sexual dissatisfaction be fueling such attempts to spice up their lives? Middle-aged readers, if you’re less than ecstatic about the changes in your sex lives over the years, you’re not alone. Young readers, be aware that some things will change as the years roll by. But staying fit and healthy will help.
A team at the University of Guelph, in Ontario, has examined the responses of 2,400 Canadian men and women between the ages of 40 and 59 to a survey asking questions about sexual health, pleasure, attitudes and behaviours. Results of the study were published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, and summarized in Science Daily. Appropriately enough, funding for the study was provided by a company that produces condoms, and is understandably interested in finding out how to increase the use of their products.
The researchers’ conclusion: sexual problems are quite common among the middle-aged.
40% of the women, and nearly 30% of the men, admitted suffering a decline in the quality of their sex lives.
For men, the main problems were diminished levels of desire, difficulties in achieving and maintaining erections, and difficulties in ejaculation.
Women also noted lower levels of desire, along with vaginal dryness, vaginal pain, and difficulty achieving orgasm.
The researchers noted a correlation between poor physical health and problematic sex lives; stay healthy and fit, and you’re less likely to suffer sexual dysfunction. You’re also likely to be more desirable. Feeling desired and appreciated can also be an important part of sexual health, since a great deal of sexual satisfaction is driven by what goes on in the brain, rather than just nerve endings in sensitive membranes.
According to the survey results, those who are single, separated, divorced, or widowed tend to have slightly higher levels of desire than couples in long-term relationships.
We can speculate about whether the long-term couples could improve their sex lives by being more sexually innovative, or whether demonstrating more affection and appreciation would be more effective – not to take each other for granted, to be interested rather than dismissive, and not to fall into emotionally boring habits with each other.
Physical problems such as vaginal dryness and pain may or may not be amenable to medical treatment, but it’s worth talking about them with a doctor to find out. Doctors may not ask their patients about their sex lives, but if patients are having problems, they should talk to doctors and see if there’s any known treatment.
If not, moral support and sympathy from friends and maybe a bit of humour can help with acceptance.
Can we contemplate that some changes are inevitable with advancing age, and that once we are past child-bearing, we need not demand that our bodies “perform” sexually with the same degree of urgency and satisfaction as they did years ago, when we were hostages to our hormones? Once past a certain age, must we think of diminishing desire, vaginal dryness, or problems getting it up as “dysfunction” or can we accept these changes as a natural part of becoming older and, hopefully, wiser?
Mind you, as one older woman remarked to me a while ago, “It’s nice to have an orgasm once in a while!” Some older people become unable to have penetrative intercourse, but can still have satisfying sex lives; for a discussion on how this can be, see this 2014 article in Psychology Today.
Hyper-sexualization “ᴚ” us
The expectation that we should not experience any decrease in sexual desire or “performance” as we age can possibly be blamed on the hyper-sexualization of our culture. Sex has been used to sell nearly everything, for a very long time. Sex has seemed to be the be-all and end-all of our ambitions. Wealth? We wanted to be rich to attract sexual attention, right? Same goes for fame. Did we lust after a particular car or motorcycle? Advertising probably suggested that it would make us seem sexier. Did we want to win a race and prove our prowess? Would it make us more attractive sexually to be the top competitor?
Advertising has long capitalized on sexuality, and has pushed normalization of blatant and sometimes crude displays of sexuality in provocative clothing, in music, in speech, and in visual media.
The contrast with other cultures can be shocking: some women are forced to wear all-enveloping garments, or to keep their heads covered. Many women choose to do so even where they aren’t forced to; and with the obvious hazards from sun exposure – melanoma, wrinkles and crepey skin – I can sympathize with those who want to cover up, at least out in solar radiation.
But I strongly object to social or legal strictures forcing women to cover up.
In many countries, women happily wear bikinis, or go topless or entirely nude at some beaches. Personally, I think that’s fine; the human body is no more shameful than the body of any other animal, though arguably funnier-looking than some, and in hot weather, why shouldn’t clothing be optional?
The clothing-optional attitude is a world away from the hyper-sexualization phenomenon.
Hyper-sexualization uses clothing, make-up, jewelry, and sometimes tattoo art to emphasize sexual attributes to an almost cartoonish degree; it objectifies women (yes, it’s usually women) and their sexuality, and goes hand-in-hand with the misogynist stereotyping of women as having value only to the degree that they’re sexually attractive to men. Because of nearly cradle-to-grave conditioning, even women have bought into that stereotype for a very long time. Bought, and paid.
Hyper-sexualized clothing makes mere nudity seem an example of innocence. With over seven billion humans over-consuming and generally abusing planetary life support systems, do we really need to parade our reproductive attributes as if we were at a costume party? As if we were trying to sell them to the highest bidder, or any bidder at all? Think of some of the “gowns” worn at celebrations such as the Oscar awards. Analyze their purpose.
Aside from being in questionable taste, hyper-sexualization does objectify women, and that arguably acts to encourage rape culture with its “she was asking for it” attitude.
Well, she wasn’t asking for it if “it” means being sexually assaulted. Because our culture has told women practically since birth that they're graded on and valued for looking sexy, all she was asking for was approval. To fit in. To be accepted and valued, to look sexy so she could be admired. And maybe attract that special someone. Not to be raped.
The objectification of women has been accepted for so long that some men and boys think they have an excuse for treating women without respect, for taking advantage of them when they can, especially if the women or girls have presented themselves in a hyper-sexualized way. Let’s be clear: Hyper-sexualized clothing and make-up is not an excuse. There is no excuse.
As parents and purchasers of goods, we need to stop the objectification of women and young children. Damping down hyper-sexualization would be a start. Let’s not reward clothing manufacturers who produce children’s clothing that makes young girls look like sex objects. Let’s not reward publishers that produce magazines pushing hyper-sexualization, and companies that photo-shop models to look improbably sexy. Let’s educate children about why it isn’t a good idea to try to look like a Barbie doll. Let’s keep our schools’ sex education curricula up-to-date and inclusive.
Where to draw the line between wanting to look good, and not wanting to look like a prostitute? Our sex-oriented pop culture has made it difficult to decide. Prop up the boobs and wear a low-cut top to present them to view like melons at a fruit stand, or not? Wear super-high heels to flatter the legs and make the butt wiggle and stick out more, even if bunions form – or wear flats to preserve the health of your feet and back?
Decisions, decisions. The important thing is to think about where to draw the line – to be aware of whether or not we are presenting ourselves just as sex objects, or more realistically as people with value unrelated to sexuality. Value that comes of being kind, generous, trustworthy, loyal, thoughtful, community-minded, and considerate.
That way, when middle age ambushes us, we won’t be so vulnerable to it. We’ll have more friends and fewer bunions.