Sexual Late-Bloomers

For some women, great sex begins at midlife. MORE.com’s dating expert explains why.

By Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW

Suzy Jamison describes sex during her 20-year marriage as, "an opportunity to go grocery shopping." The Cincinnati mother of two recalls, "In my head I went down every aisle and couldn’t wait until it was over." She sighs, "I thought there was something wrong with me."After her divorce eight years ago at age 42 that theory was quickly, uh, laid to rest. She calls sex with her current boyfriend, "wonderful, healthy, fantastic." The reason? "I just lost my inhibitions," she says.Suzy is no anomaly. Many women whose 20s and 30s were a stressed-out blur of mating, childrearing, and career-building didn’t really start paying attention to their bodies as more than curvy hood ornaments until life slowed down — or changed completely. In the ’60s and ’70s, the influential sexuality researchers Masters and Johnson were the first to bring attention to the notion that sex begins at 40. More recently, a 1999 University of Chicago study revealed that females aged 40 to 60 had fewer sexual dysfunctions (i.e., lack of interest, performance anxiety) than younger women. Psychologist Dr. L.B. Wish explains, "My baby boomer aged clients who experienced a late sexual blooming typically did so after divorce or widowhood." The psychologist continues, "These events freed them emotionally. Women who sought or stumbled into new relationships discovered their sexual selves." Why did these women find it utterly impossible to unearth their sensual nature while married? According to Dr. Wish, "Sex has long been the arena where couples express their relationship anger, hurt, and disappointment by withholding, turning off, or tuning out. A new relationship wipes the slate clean." Dr. L.B. Wish Nancy Michaels spent her 19-year marriage being sexually rejected by her husband. The Massachusetts mother of three explains, "I’d literally only had one sexual relationship prior to meeting him in college, so I wasn’t very experienced. Having my life partner, who I found very attractive, turn to Internet porn rather than to me was very painful." The natural reaction in a case like this is to shut down. Now 44 and divorced, Michaels, the creator of matchgonewrong.com, has checked her libido out of the lost and found. Happily involved with a man who is teaching her that the phrase Oh My God can fit a situation outside a sanctuary, she says, "In some ways I feel I wasted two decades, but being older and wiser also makes it easier to not just know what I want, but to ask for it."matchgonewrong.com A major factor behind Nancy’s sexual renaissance is that she no longer feels judged and inadequate. "I was never going to measure up to the fantasy women my [ex-]husband had in his mind. Sex with the right person — someone who accepts you — is not just freeing but safe."The author’s research revealed that it takes many women until their 40s to unshackle themselves from the ingrained pattern of putting the man’s needs first…and perhaps not feeling worthy of having an orgasm. Fay, who is 52, says, "One woman [interviewed for her research] faked it for four-and-a-half years so as not to bruise her husband’s ego. Another has only now, after her divorce, found the courage to confess to a lover that she needs oral sex to fully enjoy herself."As many of us have heard before, communication is key. Ellen Sayles, a 41-year-old Pennsylvania radio producer, says, "My boyfriend and I shared all our secrets and insecurities right up front before we began having sex." She admits, "John and I had both been betrayed by our spouses, so trust is a huge non-negotiable for both of us." That she and John share a depth of trust "like no one else before in [her] life" allows her to "let go" while in bed with him.Some 40-plus women are able to let go in a way that would have made their younger selves blush. At 47, Desi Foxx, a former partner in an investment firm, has recently become a porn star. Twice-divorced and living in North Miami, Foxx says, "Growing up in a religious household, I was sexually repressed. I don’t want to marry again. I don’t really even want to date. I’m a cougar: I have my pick of young male studs. I’m fulfilled at work — the movies are my sexual outlet." It’s safe, as everyone is tested; and since her lovemaking is primarily confined to the set, she is spared "the messiness of relationships."While Foxx’s experience seems extreme to most of us, she is not alone in realizing that life is short — so why live according to repressive rules? Increasingly, women are waking up at midlife and asking, Is this all there is? I want something else.Remember, it truly is never too late. Dr. Wish, the psychologist who works primarily with a baby boomer clientele, laughs, "I had an 80-year-old woman in my office who said, ‘I’m here because I’m not getting any younger and I want to have an ‘organism’ before I die."Rock on, sister.Do you have a tough question about dating or relationships?E-mail Sherry at DatingExpert@More.com and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.E-mail Sherry About Sherry AmatensteinSherry Amatenstein, LMSW, is the author of Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and Q&A Dating Book. She runs dating seminars around the country and does private coaching — not to help singles marry in 60 days, but to uncover their blocks. She has given relationship advice on the Early Show, Regis, Inside Edition, CBS News, VH1, BBC, and many other programs. Her philosophy is that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself.Schedule a one-on-one coaching session with Sherry Buy Love Lessons from Bad Breakups Buy The Q&A Dating Book Originally published on MORE.com, February 2008.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 18:26

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