What’s better than sex? Maybe writing about sex. Sex and Our City is a special week-long series that looks for questions and answers about love and sex in our city.
Photo by Just-Us-3.
In Toronto, a birthday celebration often isn’t complete without hearing the drunken whines of “I’m so old” (as the table scrambles to find their IDs to order beer). However, we’re taking longer to do the things that are associated with getting older: we put off marriage, property ownership, reproduction. It’s one thing to joke about being old; it’s another to have the proof suckling at your chest. Old appears to be a four letter word that signals the end of excitement and the start of routine.
Nearly every article written about the Sex and the City movie inevitably mentions the age of Kim Cattrall, who plays sexually liberated Samantha. She’s 51! we’re told, with the exclamation point being the equivalent of the (usually male) writer vomiting all over his monitor. The magic number 50 appeared again with the release of Madonna’s new album. The focus was on her album cover—distasteful for someone months from 50. Isn’t it time for old Madge to be put out to pasture, people asked, as if it were a kindly gesture to ship her off to Platonic Point, where men and women of a certain age knit, play gin rummy, and essentially have the portion of the brains where romance and love reside lobotomized.
What is it about 50 that gets under our skin? At a time when this generation of 50-somethings will be the richest—consider that people over 50 control 77% of all Canadian wealth—and healthiest yet, why is age still one big Viagra joke? In school, we learned that the number 50 in math is normally associated with half, as in 50% off or a 50-50 chance. Could we be subconsciously seeing the number as the point in life when the glass becomes half empty instead of half full? Why is 50 a failing grade for romance and sex?
Photo by Patrick Q.
It’s easy to suggest that the fear of 50 comes from our inability to face our mortality. But if we as a society are happily in a Peter Pan phase and never wanting to grow old, why aren’t we frolicking carefree while we’re young? Instead, we are hyper-concerned about aging: 20-somethings apply masks, serums, and tonics to prevent even the slightest wrinkle and instead of worrying about 30, we’ve graduated to worrying about 25, because after that age you can start rounding up. If it were just about our impending death, the difference between 25 and 30 wouldn’t be an issue. And as science and lifestyle choices become better, we should see inflation in The Point Of No Return: say, up to 55, or 60. Instead, 50 holds firm. There has to be something more at hand.
When discussing the topic of geriatric sex, a friend suggested that the source might be a lot closer than expected: the Parents Factor. For most people in their 20s and 30s, their parents are steadily approaching retirement age—and no one wants to think of their parents having sex, no matter how stunningly Kim Cattrall has aged. There’s a pressure to do things that are “young” before we effectively become our parents: no one wants to think of their naughty bits at that age, as another friend put it ever so suavely. It also explains why we attack geriatric sex: isn’t sex the domain of the young? (Back off, cougars! Sex is for cubs only!) If the so-called “zoomers” (boomers with zip—coined by head zoomer Moses Znaimer) have sex, the thinking goes, it acts as a sort of attack on our youth. We then sabotage ourselves by putting pressure—a kind of ticking time bomb—onto ourselves: live hard and fast now, because tomorrow only gets uglier.
Except it’s not true. After 50, you don’t fall off the cliff like the yodeller from The Price Is Right. We may not want to think about it, but seniors are having sex. In a survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine, nearly three-quarters of respondents aged 57 to 64 had sex in the last year. Dating sites have established sections for older people to meet other singles. (A site like Gray and Gay can be reassuring when Gay Years are almost as unforgiving as Dog Years.)
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When you think about it, there are some advantages to being older and still engaging in love. Experience. A new availability of partners. Lower inhibitions. Seniors can be more comfortable with their sexuality and willing to experiment, says Robyn Taylor [video] of the G-Spot Boutique. She noticed that seniors would come in groups to shop at her store, but often found it embarrassing to talk about their sexual needs. Sex is still a taboo subject seniors are scared to talk about—sadly, this includes to their doctors, which results in less safe sex education.
Perhaps the fear isn’t exclusive to seniors. Maybe we’re scared too and psyching ourselves out about 50. We’re expecting the worst, but hoping for the best. In that light, isn’t it almost inspiring to realize that love isn’t limited by time? If we don’t find love (or we lose the love we’ve found) in our 20s, 30s, or 40s, it’s reassuring to know that shipment to Platonic Point isn’t mandatory. It’d be depressing to think if the alternative was true, since looking for companionship and a connection with another person is something with which we can universally relate regardless of age. On the television show Golden Girls, the titular characters could speak more honestly (and provocatively) about relationships because of their ages; there’s an opportunity to broaden the conversation on sex, romance, and love that we shouldn’t let ageism take away. We’re the young, open-minded, and explorative generation right? So, when we hear that from a sample of Americans aged 57 to 85, half of men and a quarter of women masturbate whether or not they have a sexual partner, if we squirm, don’t we reveal ourselves—regardless of our youth—as the true fuddy-duddies?