What would the media like us to believe about women’s sexual confidence? I see a lot of messaging out there designed to convince us that American women are getting more and more sexually bold, empowered, and creative. Call it the Sex & the City affect or the Miley Cyrus affect, if you like. What we see are stories about how we are increasingly more sexually liberated and daring. We see feminist empowerment portrayed as the right to be unabashedly sexy (you can twerk if you want to!). But, in reality, for many people these public displays of sex seem to be making them feel more inhibited rather than less.
Take for example a recent comparison of sex questionnaires, from 2 very mainstream media publications, Glamour and Mademoiselle, looking at people’s answers from 1993 and 2013. Sure, there was some great news about women receiving more oral sex than before and more women have used a sex toy. But it also showed that 48% of the women questioned felt that men enjoy sex more than women, a sharp rise from the 33% who said that in 1993. So, all the talk about women’s increasing sexual ownership and desire are not translating to people’s actual bedrooms. And here is one potential reason, the surveys also showed that 73% of women now said that they would enjoy sex more if they lost weight! This number is staggeringly sad on its own, but even more dismaying in relation to the survey results from 1993 in which only 39% of women said this. Suggesting, in relation to body image empowerment is declining.
It is a good thing to like the way you look and to feel comfortable in your own body. But let’s be clear, there is not a lot that 20 extra pounds of fat can do to decrease your sexual pleasure – except for what your mind does with it. Sure being obese may limit some positions. Being out of shape may limit your endurance. But sex can still be fun. Orgasms will still feel good. And, the part that is clearly the hardest for people to accept – your partner can still desire you, think you are hot, and enjoy the privilege of interacting with your body. The fact that so many women are linking weight loss to their ability to enjoy sex speaks to the cruelty and arbitrariness of our minds. You can decide that you only have the right to enjoy sultry, uninhibited sex if you look like an airbrushed advertisement. You can turn off desire by allowing critical voices free rein in your head. You can doubt your partner’s touch or belittle their passion while with you. You can hold out for impossible standards while your body does its natural thing and ages. But it is such a waste.
I share with the mass media a desire to tell a story of sexual liberation. I just acknowledge that there is still a battle people need to fight in their own minds to really liberate themselves, and so many of us are losing it. And the cost is denying something that is natural, that we don’t have to purchase or earn, that always belongs to us – the pleasure our body can take in sexual stimulation.
Does this topic hit a nerve? Consider joining Melissa’s upcoming women’s group, Aligning With Your Body
As age-related self criticism (“I have so many wrinkles, I am so old, my body is changing…”) is on the rise in the US, I will share a fascinating research experiment with you. Harvard psychologist Dr. Ellen Langer wanted to study the effects of mind-set on our aging process. So she created a nostalgia summer camps of sorts. She took a group of elderly men to a retreat where they were exposed to cues reminding them of their youth, old newspapers, magazines, radio, music, etc. They were told to talk and interact as though they were back in the 1950s and young men. For one week they were invited to play at being young again.
And what happened? You could say magic happened, if you were so inclined. Dr. Langer conducted physical and mental testing on the men before and after the retreat. She found that the men had improvements in grip strength, healthy posture & gait, manual dexterity, memory, hearing & vision! Their bodies responded as though they were growing younger. And that was just in one week.
So before you decide that your best days are behind you, before you critique your looks, your sexual performance, your libido, your relationship, your self, consider who you are imagining yourself to be. Who is your mind telling you to be? Can you remind yourself of who you want to be? Do you need to listen to some hair metal or smell like pachouli? How would you have acted 10 years ago? What might happen if you deciding to play that part now? How might you approach your partner differently? How might you walk into the coffee bar differently? Care to try? Maybe your body will take you up on the invitation. In any case, I bet you will have fun.
Prevention Magazine, June 2013
Big news – elderly people still enjoy and want sex. And it is good for them. Last year researchers with Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care, made the long overdue statement in the Journal of Medical Ethics that nursing homes should not discourage residents from having sex. Does it surprise you that researchers need to even make this statement? Did you imagine that once you left your parents house, or the dorms, or got rid of roommates that you wouldn’t have to worry about finding a place to have sex in private? Think again.
As the US’s elderly population grows, there will be more and more people faced with the need for caregivers – either moving in with their grown children and families, having in-home care, or moving into residential care facilities. And few of these caregivers are prepared to support an elderly person’s sexuality. Issues of privacy are key. Can the elderly person ask for private time to masturbate? Can they invite a new sexual partner to the home? Do they have freedom to shower or do other self care tasks when they want to, can they ask for help with these tasks on their own schedule? Also issues of access and resources come into play for the elderly. If they can’t drive themselves to the store, who can they ask for help if they need to buy lube or condoms (In fact, the elderly are a growing risk population for HIV and a clear reminder to all of us that safe sex is an ongoing life concern, even when birth control is no longer needed). Even more importantly - would they or their caregivers be comfortable talking about these things with each other?
If you are currently in a young and healthy body, it may be easy to read this and think, “Old people are too tired or sore to want sex, or old people have put sex behind them”. You may be blind to the elderly as sexual beings. I encourage you to think differently about this issue. Sex fulfills many needs in us. Our desire to be desired and to receive physical affection and sexual release outlives many other desires in our life. It is, in many ways, ageless. Someday, if you live long enough, you may reach a point in which your independence starts to wane and you may rely on others for help with your daily living. How do you want to be treated? How do you want your body, your desires, your sexuality to be honored or acknowledged? And thinking of the elderly around you now, how can we do better in honoring them?
Interested in reading more about sex and aging? Follow the link to my article for YourTango on Preparing for a Sexy Old Age. http://www.yourtango.com/experts/melissa-fritchle/preparing-sexy-old-age-start-now