The theme of this month has brought us to a busy location where we have spoken to more than a few people, and each person has vastly different experiences and thoughts to share. Even amongst couples partnered over years, over decades, the insights and reflections on ageing and sexuality are unique to each individual. So we decided to randomly choose a handful of respondents amongst some of the folks we know, and request them to do a reflective self-interview. We asked them to speak about the key thoughts and feelings that surface when they think of the combination of sexuality and ageing. We hoped that this would reveal aspects of our beliefs, that an interviewer may not know to enquire about.
These self-interviews were approached differently by each person who has contributed to this article. Some wrote in a flow, precisely articulating thoughts they have lived with for a while, the theme being one they have reflected on over time, for themselves. Others responded to us from a space of considering their experiences specifically from this perspective (if not for the first time), intentionally focusing on it in a way that allows a flow of thoughts, memories and insights to present themselves as they appeared, during a WhatsApp interaction. In both these processes, there is significance. Yes, people think about ageing and sexuality, both consciously and unconsciously, and some people have been self-aware, have intentionally adopted approaches over time that work for them. Yes, there is a lot to share and one person’s insights may be unique to them, but may also support another person’s process. Finally, all responses reaffirm that both ageing and sexuality as concepts, connect to many, perhaps all, aspects of our lives, beyond time, beyond physical location and circumstances, and beyond the reduction of sexuality and sex to the simple verb, a doing, or the noun (not so long ago one of a binary, now with three options), in a format you fill for your passport or to admit your three-year-old to play school.
Not all those we spoke to were comfortable with revealing their identities with their responses, so we are not using the names of contributors in this article.
P works in the film industry, identifies as queer, and lives with her partner of over seven years and their four-legged companions.
Shikha, I’ve been thinking, I don’t know what to say about age and sexuality. For me being queer and now older, it means that I’m more confident in my sexuality. I’m not interested in masking it or parading it. It’s more of a ‘this is who I am’. I recognise it. I am comfortable with it. And I don’t want to change it, or change myself. I wish that the same confidence and self-assurance had been there in me, in my queer self of the 20s. I see and appreciate this in a lot of younger queer people.
For me, as a queer person, while growing up, passion was hinged on secrecy. It’s not the same anymore. I wouldn’t necessarily announce my queerness or my being in a relationship with my partner on entering any and every space, but to people or in spaces that matter, I introduce my partner as being my partner.
So, sexuality for me has changed over the years. Blind passion has been overtaken by the need for companionship, stability and communication. Also I find an appreciation of the differences between my partner and me. I feel a respect for my partner as an individual. These things have taken precedence over sex.
Age also brings the observation that perhaps one is not as desirable as when younger, not as sharp, not as eloquent, not as well turned out, so many things joyous in life. This is an internal battle. But on the flip side of that, maturity brings with it other good things, beautiful silver-grey hair, well-earned lines on the face, a low-hanging soft belly, a growing, sharpening aesthetic, socio-political understanding. Empathy that is not centred only around one’s world. A rising emotional quotient. Understanding and respecting of boundaries, one’s own and that of others. The age-old question, can we have the wisdom of today in our younger selves? We all know the answer to that.
And so we hold on to the remnants of our youth and march onward with our burgeoning wisdom.
🙂 and that’s all I have for you today!
No, also one last very important fact, that sexuality is political. And I feel I was a fool to not have known that earlier or have acknowledged it.
A is a writer, director and teacher, identifies as female, heterosexual, and is single.
This year I turn 50.
My birthday goals include learning Pole Dancing in Amsterdam and visiting the Tantra Lounge in Berlin. The year I intend finding sexual expression through daily life. This has nothing to do with actually having sex. It has everything to do with being sexual. Being ‘on’ at any given time. Somehow for me the graph has been reversed. From being sexually-reserved, confused with romance and even putting up with emotional abuse in the need to be bodily accepted, through my 20s and 30s, my journey of sexual expression started only at 45. As I hit the next emotional wall in a relationship, I felt like something had to shift intrinsically. Something had to calm down and look inwards. Surely there was something that could make me beautiful to my own eyes without having to have a Man around for validation.
Enter ‘Sacred Sexuality’. Some of it falls under the vast topic of ‘Tantra’ from Hindu and Buddhist scriptures but that isn’t the point. The point is that it is a concept of Deep Respect. A Way of Life that honours the body and its senses. Wherein you truly treat your Body as a Temple. Wherein you begin seeing yourself as a Goddess (this works!) whose Power lies in being able to understand, appreciate and harness her sexual energy. A form of sexual expression that permeates the way one walks, one breathes, one lives. A form that helps you become your own best lover (not to be confused with masturbation) by allowing yourself to see the beauty in the mirror at any given moment. A sexuality so sacred in the way it plays out, that if you were to find a lover, it wouldn’t be any less than a sacred ritual. Slow, immersive, respectful.
And as I walked the path I realized that all I had wanted all this while was respect. For my body, for my energy, for my being. Both as a Woman and as a Person. I will not settle for anything less ever again.
Sex is Sacred. I will have it no other way.
M and G are in their 60’s, married for about four decades, parents to two, now adult, persons. G is an enthusiastic bird watcher and photographer. M who has always enjoyed travel and adventures is currently on an inner journey of spiritual seeking. M identifies as female, heterosexual. G identifies as male, heterosexual.
M: I feel that age and sexuality are not understood. I ask, what does age have to do with sexuality? What I believe is more important actually, is our education on the subject of sexuality. This is as true today as it was years, or even a generation ago. The subject is not introduced to us by parents, by teachers, by anyone, in the right way! When we say sexuality, we first think of sex. The word sex, and the acts or feelings associated with sex are taboo. One big taboo in our society relates to pre-marital sex. This taboo, as I have observed, is for both men and women. I think that so much sexual violence, rape, these things are connected to these different taboos. You can only think of sex after marriage. You cannot talk about it. Also you cannot engage in sexual activity purely to satisfy desire. I have observed that when you age, it’s different, things change. Men and women both look for like-minded people to satisfy their sexual needs, and you do get like-minded people, but it’s not a relationship, it’s like a one-night stand. I also feel this is mostly true of affluent society. I think a person from the middle-class will either just watch blue films, or make some relationship blunders!
When I think about it, mostly one does not get what one wants. Women get used to the idea of living with the man they are married to and when you have a child, you just get used to the person you are with.
As we grow, I think that we learn a fixed pattern of response to a particular stimulus. By stimulus I mean any physical, sexual, intimate, romantic experience, it could be holding hands, it could be a WhatsApp message with a heart in it. We are conditioned, by everything we see or hear, from people, films, media stories, magazines, social media. There is no room to understand your own real self, and what you are feeling or want. Or don’t want. This, in turn, does not leave any room for feelings in a sexual, say encounter, or intimate sexual experience. Sex itself becomes just an act. But it is also true that artists, writers and poets have always expressed through their art and beautiful verses and stories of love, the subtleties of relationships, love, intimacy and sexuality. I don’t know if our understanding and feelings change with age. For me, sex is a way to express love, care and togetherness. Finally, I also think that each one of us is a unique person, and what we do, how we act, comes from this uniqueness.
G: I see things for what they are. I see ageing as a natural process of the body among all living beings. I think that sexuality, among humans, is an element or aspect that is explored even before puberty and then through your teens. At least it is explored as much as possible, depending on who you are, how your family is, how okay you are with sexuality, including your own sexuality. This exploration is due to curiosity, but also due to anxiety. I remember my own experience during puberty. I noticed that I seemed to have swollen nipples! I got worried. In my head, I thought, I am male, but this kind of body development happens in females! What’s happening to me? I was really scared. I finally asked my older sister. I pointed it out and showed it to her. She just said to me that I was growing up and there was nothing to worry about. She said it so simply and with ease that I was reassured.
Sexuality is a big term, and many people use it to mean many things. It is often understood as being closely related to the body’s reproductive system and the biology of reproduction. But many human beings naturally enjoy sexual intimacy and this has nothing to do with reproduction necessarily. This is important to understand and is still not understood, or accepted, by many people. See, humans are mostly sexually quite active from the age of eighteen onwards to perhaps fifty, and along the way there are changes in the body that impact the reproductive system. This is not necessarily the reason sexual behaviour changes, though it is one of the reasons. Feelings and state of mind play a big part. So I know, for example, that an ageing man may look to fulfil sexual desire with younger women, because somewhere this satisfies the ego, the sense of being sexually active even as the years pass and people can see you, and you feel yourself, getting older.
About sex and sexual intimacy, I feel, that between a long-term couple, a husband and wife, sexual activity slows down due to other factors in life. The thought let’s make love, or, let’s have sex, takes a back seat. It is suppressed by other thoughts, and by other circumstances, such as physical slowing down, tiredness, sometimes illness, or other circumstances, being caught up in life’s stresses and things to be done.
What I have observed among people I know, specifically men who are ageing, including some of my own friends, is that they keep their sex life active by going to sex workers, and by sort of acquiring girlfriends, outside of their marriage relationship, girlfriends who are much younger than them. Wrong or right, I wonder sometimes, but I see that there is something here that makes them happy in some way. I also know that many of them actually have the consent of their spouses for sexual or relationship activity outside marriage. This is just a fact I have seen.
I think that a sexual relationship, any sexual intimacy, requires other things in place, love, liking, trust, consent and understanding, and this makes it beautiful.
V works in the corporate sector, identifies as female, heterosexual, is single and has been a single parent to a young person for almost two decades.
My greying hair is an everyday reality reflecting my ageing, something I refer to as “maturing”. I relate that to how a good whisky matures and gets better, because that’s what I believe is happening to me. Being a single mother has never dented this belief. If there has ever been a momentary or fleeting thought, I have ultimately found it to be insignificant beyond a point in my life. My ageing and my sexuality have never given me reason to lament, or to regret anything. I owe some of it to my son’s liberal-mindedness. I believe his liberal approach is a result of the fact that in the absence of his father, there has been no conflict in the approach taken to certain issues for discussion. I don’t imply a disconnect with his father, to be clear, just an absence of discussing my day-to-day or on-the-spur-of-the-moment reactions to events, which only my conscience has both questioned and answered.
I remember when we first discussed sex, he was 10 years old. It happened because of questions he asked in regard to a rape case that was making the headlines. I had a few fleeting doubts on how much to share and how to say what I wanted to. In all honesty, I had no plan in sight. What I do remember clearly is taking his questions, like the bull, by the horn. My single-minded focus was to leverage this discussion to enable him to fathom the harshness and injustice of rape and any kind of patriarchal mindset of control, and in doing so, to balance it with the beauty of consensual sex or lovemaking. I don’t think I expected him to fathom the depth of my explanations, but I did hope that lingering questions would arise at a later time, a way to measure that he had given the discussion some thought, to understand more and to understand better.
It is true though that ageing has brought home realities about my body that I ignored when I was younger. It has made me mindful of what I value, and what I choose to let go of, without too much of thought or unnecessary angst. Being aware of my realities has not left me wanting to go back in time, but on the contrary, I do want to experience what the largely dreaded term “old age” will bring. I see it as another measure of the way I have lived, and I am confident that it will be all that I want it to be.
S has been a working professional in the not-for-profit sector for about two decades, identifies as female, gay, and is single.
If I am asked about ageing and sexuality, my first thought is that ageing hasn’t made me less interested in sex and neither has it made me want to be less sexually active. I think that you can “live by your age” and completely make that the premise to form a perspective on life and yourself. Also, society is doing that for you anyway. Or, you can also be self-aware and respond to life and yourself from this space. Being single throws a completely different spin on everything for people around you, and of course for you, because you’re not living in isolation.
So now people need to deal with not only your age but your singledom and for that they need a reason! Did she have a bad break up?
Maybe she’s just had bad luck in relationships.
Maybe she needs to go out more, dress better.
Now she’s too old to ever find someone!
So it’s all about be this, be that, and etc. Your coupled friends want to fix you up with someone, your house-broker wants you to pretend you still live with your parents, your family doesn’t understand that although you don’t have a family, a house to run or kids to look after, your individual way of living, your own life, is still important and needs to be respected.
The issue is these judgments that people make about you and also that you’re meant to help them, by embracing the situation, accepting these issues, and giving or presenting a picture to people that they can digest. Navigating around all of this while processing ageing and your singlehood can be overwhelming.
I’d say that what’s worked for me, in spite of it being damn difficult at times, is to work on myself and drown the noise. Put my blinkers on and really connect with myself. Take time out to recharge. The beauty about ageing is that it really makes you see yourself. You’re literally unfurling. It makes you understand who you are, who are your people, who matters, what you can let go of, and where you want to go from here.
D works on issues of sexuality, has been in a committed relationship with another woman for more than a decade, and sometimes cannot accurately recall her own age. The latter two facts are unrelated.
My body now occupies half the space it did twenty-five years ago and my soul twice as much. I brood about my sexuality less and live it more. For a very long time, almost thirty years, sexual passion and relationships were the driving force behind everything I did. Some of it turned out brilliantly and birthed wonderful gifts, personally and professionally. Some of it led to heartache and bitterness, some to enduring friendships, and some has wafted into oblivion, as perhaps it does for many of us. What used to be the thrill of getting into and out of relationships is now, for me, unwanted drama.
I am finding that less can be more, and more, less. Some of this is the result of my experiences, and some of it my body tells me; there’s more hair where there used to be less, and less where there used to be more, more incipient jowl below my once-sharply-defined jawline and less fat on my bum and my boobs, you get the drift… In any case, less and more are relative, and I really don’t care. I have never felt or behaved my age, and, now, sometimes I forget how old I am and have do a quick calculation in my head to remember. No, it’s not senility, it’s living in the moment.
Thirty years ago, I was more sure of what I knew than I am now. With all that is going on in the world in terms of power, of politics, of repression, of possibilities, of newer technologies, of simultaneous expansion and contraction, I feel less and less sure of what I know and more and more open to admitting it.
Sexuality no longer makes on me the demands it once did, but that does not mean that it is not important to me, just that it is not my driver any more. I savour my love-doings and love-happenings and delight in the joys of those who tell me of their own.