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50, Fabulous and Frisky: Part 1

Aug. 20, 2009
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I was in the store and you helped me find books to answer my questions. The resources that you recommended have been helpful. I decided to formulate my question for your column, as it might be helpful to other women (and maybe for men). So here it goes: I am in my late 50s, got "unmarried" 8 years ago, single mom, etc. Now my parenting days are winding down, and I have time to develop my personal relationships. I feel like I'm back in the late '60s with a very conservative upbringing about sexual attitudes and relationships. What resources do you recommend that would help me sort through my old information and attitudes. Also, what changes can I expect in my sex life as my body ages and what solutions do you suggest? I think there are a lot of women with similar questions (which we are too embarrassed to ask and talk about). Thanks.

Thanks for sharing your question so that others can benefit from resources that you found helpful. I agree there are many women in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond who are searching for information about sexuality that is relevant to their lives and experiences. Unfortunately, our society still portrays sex and dating as something that only younger people do, which couldn't be further from the truth. Since there are two very important and separate parts to your question (one about dealing with sexual attitudes and the other about sex and aging), I'm going to answer them in two columns.

You mention that you think your attitudes about sex are "old" and from another era. Although the world has certainly changed a lot since the '60s, I talk to people of all ages—even folks in their teens and 20s—who were raised with a very conservative mind-set about sexuality. The old tropes about sex being bad, sinful or something "nice girls" don't talk about haven't gone away, unfortunately. All of us receive messages about sexuality from our parents or other family members, our religion (if we practice or were raised in a particular faith), and our friends as we grow up. While some of these messages might be positive, many attempt to control women's sexuality by making it seem dangerous or out of control.Sexually confident women, we're told, won't be desirable to men or have successful relationships. Bad things will happen to women who have sex—tales of unwanted pregnancy, STIs and abandonment abound. We'll be labeled "sluts" and ostracized by others. Media images of sexuality, featuring women who are thin, young and blemish-free, can also contribute to a lack of body confidence or self-esteem, feeling that we're not beautiful or sexy enough. Sometimes it amazes me that adolescents still gossip meanly about girls who are rumored to be sexually active, and that Kelly Clarkson can't appear on the cover of SELF without having her butt airbrushed. Really? We haven't moved beyond all that yet? These things inhibit us from enjoying sex and communicating with partners about what gets us hot or what our boundaries are.

How do you confront these attitudes? Identifying them as beliefs, not truths, is a start. Where did these beliefs come from? Can you point to a specific incident with a parent, a middle-school friend, or a magazine that made you ashamed of sex? Deconstructing your "old" beliefs and their sources is important. Once you've identified some you'd like to change, positive self-talk can help you turn them around. For example, if one of your "old" beliefs is, "Only 'bad girls' enjoy sex," replace it with "My partner loves it when I am enthusiastic and vocal about how much I enjoy sex!"Whenever you hear your internal voice saying something critical or fearful about sex, stop and consciously change that statement into an affirmation. While this might seem cheesy or unbelievable at first, it can have a powerful effect over time. If you are really struggling with deep issues, seeing a therapist is another option. You deserve a happy and healthy sex life, and finding a professional counselor to help you on that path is a sign of your strength and your commitment to yourself.

I also suggest learning all you can about sex. Read books. Attend workshops. Talk to friends or, if that feels too embarrassing, catch some of the girl talk online at CherryTV, which tapes educational segments featuring women dishing with each other about their sexual experiences. Watch erotic DVDs that portray older people's sexuality in a positive light, such as Juliet Carr's Ageless Desire or Comstock Films' Bill and Desiree: Love Is Timeless. The more knowledge you acquire about this formerly taboo topic, the more comfortable you will feel with your own body and sexuality.

I especially recommend books, workshops or DVDs by some of the pioneers of woman-centered, positive sexuality who are now in their 50s. Susie Bright(51), Betty Dodson(80), Carol Queen(51), and Annie Sprinkle(55) are amazing, groundbreaking women who were inspiring to me. I don't think that I'd be a sexuality educator if not for the work of these authors, artists and directors, and they are all still creating vibrant writings and other projects about sexuality. The book I recommended to you when you visited the store was Annie Sprinkle's recent Spectacular Sex: Make Over Your Love Life with One of the World's Great Sex Experts. This book is particularly good for dealing with attitudes about sexuality that are blocking your personal growth, as it's formatted in a workbook style that encourages you to address these issues.

Picture of Annie Sprinkle courtesy of anniesprinkle.org

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them tolaura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.


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