Sexy old women: mutually exclusive terms, some would say, unless you’re referring to “cougars”, whose legendary prowling gives them their beastly nickname. This species is female, middle-aged and is to be found in the jungles around well-known watering holes. The title is an advance on the old days, when such women would have been described as sluts – or, as a well-padded chap behind me in a café put it (not in the old days) as “fat old sluts”.
They aren’t fat, notes a muscled youngster of my acquaintance, at least most of them aren’t, they’re Botoxed, anorexic and bloody uninhibited. He should know – he’s spent some of his growing-up time in those jungles.
Males on the bar circuit, young or old, are of course doing their thing. “Men should still do the prowling, don’t you think?” remarks a safely married matron, pointing to a short-skirted lamb with a mane of blonde hair that belies a pair of ancient eyes. “Look at her, all of 50, and in the bars every weekend. Pathetic, no?”
No. Just lonely. What’s so pathetic about choosing your company like a man does? I keep hearing that women after 40 are past it and after 50 invisible. The distinctive beauty of actress Kristin Scott Thomas is a case in point: when she walked into a room every head would turn; now, at 54, she claims nobody notices her. Beautiful women clearly struggle more with ageing – their plainer counterparts have long been forced to find other ways of boosting self-esteem.
Being “past it” is largely a male view of women’s ageing, but women, ever self-critical, particularly about their appearance, have readily endorsed their invisibility. For many, inner beauty is poor consolation – the world doesn’t see it, men don’t want it.
But are older women desexed by the ageing process? If your skin is lined and your body sags does that imply that your sexuality and desire are desiccated too?
Maybe for some, but over time I’ve talked to a fairly wide spectrum of older (and old) women, and guess what? Quite a few of them, married and single, let me know that they’re admirably sexually active. And not always with whom you’d expect.
Among the highlights was a lively discussion with a wizened 82-year-old who confessed she has a boyfriend a year younger: he, she twinkles at me, “can still get it up”. A woman of 65 has had an affair that began when the guy was a bachelor of 22 and she was 48 years old and unhappily married. She’s long divorced and he’s married now, with two young kids, but still visits her, and they still have sex. She has tried to convince him that they’re a thing of the past, but he won’t give her up. His wife thinks they’re just old pals – after all, why would her husband sleep with an old woman?
My friend Meno has a few suggestions and the experience to go along with them. Her name (among friends) stems from her claim that the best sex she’s ever had was after menopause.
Before that she was too busy with home, kids and job to relax; having sex with her husband became another chore and she, with his co-operation, whittled that chore down to once a month. Her kids, she says, grew up before she did. When two of them left home, she followed and met another guy. At 53, after menopause, she began meditating and learned to stop worrying about other people’s problems and things she couldn’t change, like getting older. She avoided mirrors, stopped dieting, put on a bit of weight. To her surprise she began to feel good about herself. With guy number three (youngish) she was able to have fun. Being more relaxed and open made her more sexually adventurous.
Then there’s Lil, 64, and Bill, 52. They met at the bowling club, which Lil says is an old-age den of iniquity, women on the prowl while the men drink. “Those guys have outgrown sex,” she says. “They’re just not interested. Their eyes are out on stalks for a shapely young chick, but they’d run a mile before doing anything about it. A couple of them use Viagra, which one old bugger says isn’t fussy, giving him the same hard-on for a vacuum cleaner as for a woman and far less trouble.”
Bill loves his wife, but hasn’t had sex with her for years. Good-looking, 10 years younger than him, she dislikes sex; can’t see the point. She’s got the kids, has never had an orgasm and doesn’t want one. Bill visits Lil twice a week and tells her she’s the sexiest woman in the world.
Maybe he knows something most men don’t: that good sex has little to do with appearance. That there’s something to be said for those who claim that true and enduring beauty comes from within.
If only more women agreed, and put their time and money into seeking and finding that beauty rather than into cosmetics and the eager paws of plastic surgeons.
Rosemund Handler’s four novels are all published by Penguin