By Bunmi Sofola
Do you dread the thought of reaching middle age? Wearing sensible shoes? Worrying about your wrinkles? Going off sex? Tutting at what young people get up to? You had better forget it right now.
According to Psychoanalyt – Gail Saltz in an in-depth analysis of erotic fantasies, middle-age is when you forget how you’ve been brainwashed over the years and revamp your sex life. Recalling her encounter with the Psychoanalyst, Nina Burleigh writes:
“An editor at a National Magazine once called me into his office to discuss a story about aging female movie stars. With a picture of his much younger wife and toddler on the shelf behind him, this 50-something man said he hoped each star would talk to us about a very specific moment.
I want to know what it feels like when she realized she’d reached an age where no man was ever going to want her again. Although I never wrote the story, I’ve never forgotten that middle-aged man’s casual assumption that women inevitably become undesirable. It offended me and as I passed my 40th birthday, I feared it might have some truth in it.
“Then I met Gail who begs to differ. At 44, she exudes a sexy, healthy lady in a trim suit, tastefully low-cut blouse, and light makes up. “Women become less sexually active as they age,” she says, “it’s more likely because they have lost their desire, not their desirability, that’s the most common issue I see in 40 and 50-year-olds”.
Saltz says statistically, it affects one out of three women. She cites a conspiracy of forces that diminish libido: anxiety, depressions, exhaustion, and relationship conflicts. Middle-aged women face some disturbing challenges. They have elderly parents and worries about their own health and life changes.
We are talking about loss, which is exceptionally stressful. Less often lust is zapped by hormonal changes. When a woman comes to Saltz with no sex drive, she sends her first to a gynecologist. Low testosterone can be the culprit, but she contends it’s rare. Likewise, dropping estrogen thins the vaginal wall, but of the vast number of women with diminishing drive, there’s only a small percentage of cases where it’s due to hormones alone.
Saltz advises women to tend to what she calls the biggest female sex organ, the brain, by indulging in more fantasies and allowing themselves to explore new, possibly unorthodox erotic avenues. What you like when you were 20 may not be what you like in your 40s.
I see women who say, I liked to do it standing up on the table, and now it’s so much effort. I prefer it on my side, or something more relaxed, and I’m having a hard time saying what I want.
I’ve also seen the opposite, women who were inhibited in young childhood are now thinking: I would try doggy style, now oral sex, but they’re embarrassed to ask. The good news is that as men age, they’re usually more willing to listen. So you probably have a more receptive partner.
Saltz who has been married for 17 years and has three kids, says when it comes to sexual requests, direct is always best. If you can’t bear an explicit conversation, then write a note, draw a carton or leave out a toy or prop you’d like to use. Bear in mind that your man’s desires and ability may be changing too.
He might wish he could hold you up against the wall but he can’t anymore. Maybe he used to enjoy having you on top, but now he needs a different position for his erection to hold. If a woman doesn’t know that some loss of erectile strength is normal, it can start a whole cycle of not wanting to be in bed because it’s humiliating.
Fantasy is crucial to maintaining a healthy sex life over time. Saltz contends that a lot of women lie there, contemplating what they should make for dinner because they’re afraid to imagine domination or the guy down the street.
But it’s fine to fantasize – if it works in the service of your sex life with your partner, great. There’s a big difference between thinking about soccer coach and settling down in a motel room with him.
If you have so many distractions at work, at home, and the mere idea of sneak sex with a soccer coach is laughably exhausting, Saltz recommends topping up your collection of fantasies.
Women should also masturbate more, she says, it’s hugely important, because your body is changing, your tastes are changing and you need to figure out what stimulation works for you. Vibrators are a must-have as only 20 per cent of women reach orgasm through intercourse alone.
Mechanical problems that sometimes come with age are, surprisingly, easier to resolve than emotional ones. Surgery or medication can help incontinence, urine prolapsed, and other medical issues that make sex difficult or embarrassing. The most common complaint in menopausal women is vaginal dryness.
Saltz recommends having a lubricant on hand and not being shy about applying it. “Women are really nervous now about taking estrogen. That means they are struggling with dryness and atrophy, and let me say, if it’s dry and it hurts you’re not going to feel like having sex,” she says.
“In short, you have to use it or lose it. The vagina is a muscle. I urge women without a partner to insert something. Otherwise, the vagina shrinks and might never get back to its original elasticity. Women need to know this. They need to take care of their bodies.
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Saltz is adamant that women should not give up. When people come to my office complaining about general unhappiness in life, I almost invariably discover that they’re not enjoying sex anymore. They’ll say, I’m okay with that and I’ll say, lack of good sex is part of the reason you’re depressed”.
When asked whether she isn’t putting yet another pressure on aging baby boomers by insisting they continue to romp in the sack, she roundly disagrees. If someone told you to do exercises with your mind to avoid dementia, you’d do them, right? If you put in the effort with sex, life will be better in many respects, including how you feel about yourself and your relationship, and how you deal with the world.
The bottom line is it’s not all gloom, yes there are changes. But many women do find their ways. They have figured themselves out and have seen that sustaining an evolving sexual relationship is extremely gratifying. It makes you closer and closer to your partner. Women who like sex and have worked to make it good for themselves tend to be very confident people.