This past October, I got the chance to meet Jane Fonda and also stand next to her and hug her and be in close proximity to her shiny, perfect hair. From the moment she walked in the room I had to suppress the urge to scream, "OH MY GOD, YOU ARE SO PRETTY," right in Jane Fonda's 76-year-old face—silently chastising myself that one does not objectify smart, powerful feminists at the fancy feminist cocktail party to which the smart, powerful feminist was kind enough to invite one. ONE SIMPLY DOES NOT.
...But it's just that she was so. Pretty.
If you'll indulge me in a little objectification after the fact, I have to say that standing next to Jane Fonda's hair illuminated one thing very clearly: Some people's genes are fucking boss. Jane Fonda at 76 looked better in a sequined pantsuit than I probably will in my wedding dress. Even if I got a surrogate to wear my wedding dress for me. Even if I got Jane Fonda to be my wedding dress surrogate. (The woman kills a pantsuit, is what I'm saying.) And women—like, say, famous movie stars from famous movie star dynasties—who spend their lives professionally doomsday-prepping for old age really can see incredible results. If there is a fountain of youth, it has to lie at the intersection of Movie Star Genes, Movie Star Wealth, Aerobics, and Luck.
But what's in store for the rest of us normals as we age? Should we gauge our own self-worth by outliers as improbable and stunning as Jane Fonda? Is there something wrong with just getting regular-old and being fine with it? Is that defeatist? Is it presumptuous and intrusive to call it defeatist? Can't we all just age how we like? BUT WHAT ABOUT HOPE!!?!?
Those questions were on my mind as I read this Slate article, excerpted and adapted from Iris Krasnow's book, Sex After...Women Share How Intimacy Changes As Life Changes. Krasnow spent two years chronicling the sex lives of 150 women between the ages of 20 and 90. And the group she says surprised her most was the Golden Girls set. Women over 70 reported that they're having the best sex of their lives.
The anecdotes are darling. Here are just a few:
A 77-year-old told me she was inspired to try fellatio for the first time after watching a YouTube video titled "Learn How to Give a Blow Job Like a Pro."
I was flipping through a copy ofLady Chatterley's Lover, refreshing my memory of that iconic work of erotica, when a silver-haired saleswoman told me I should also buy Fifty Shades of Grey. "I am 75, and it was my older sister who recommended them," she added. "My sister said some of the scenes gave her more orgasms than she'd had since her 30s. You do know that old people do it, too."
Standing barely 5-feet tall, 88-year-old Libby spoke of her colossal sexual appetite up until her husband's death, at the age of 91. "We were married for 58 years and to the end of his life, George and I never lost the magic of our physical attraction for each other," Libby said. "This business that every woman over the age of 70 or 80 doesn't lubricate is nonsense. I guess people today would call us sex addicts, because we made love so often and thought about it every day. We would spend hours in bed, and we would talk and laugh and roll around.
"Every week we put a date and a time on our calendar to make love," Shirley began. "On that day, I put on a gorgeous, sexy nightgown and that makes it even more exciting. We also find that a little bit of marijuana is a nice addition to our sex lives. I am having some of the hottest sex now, better than I had in my 20s or 30s or 40s. One of my secrets is that we are so comfortable with each other that we will try anything to keep things hot."
"After 70, there comes a sweetness about making love. We go slowly, there is no rush anymore. When you're younger, it's all about the orgasm, then it's over. I love this suspended feeling, the absolute intimacy we have been able to achieve."
Darling and encouraging. I think we all hope that the aspects of life we find most fulfilling won't decay with age, even though most everything else does. I am so incredibly happy for these awesome ladies and their partners! Last month I spent a long weekend with my aunt and uncle at their Arizona retirement village, and HOLY SHIT WAS IT THE BEST. I am so ready to move to a climate-controlled desert and do water aerobics in a rubber hat and have dinner at 4:45 pm with my gal pals and then come home and watch golf bloopers until I fall asleep by 9. And if I get to be romanced by dashing silver foxes all-day-all-night too, then WARM UP THE BARCA LOUNGER FOR ME, GERALD.
But I couldn't help think of women who aren't finding their sexual peak after retirement. There's no way that nonstop Centrum Silver fuck-fests are the overwhelming statistical norm among women over 70. I'm sure that lots of women are having sex and lots of other women aren't (kind of like...all women), so I'm not taking issue with Krasnow's reportage here at all. But I guess I just want to register the idea that nobody is obligated to be "normal." So much of our culture is focused on setting preconceived, idealized expectations for women—how we "should" manage our lives, shape our bodies, experience sex—that I think it's important to stress that being different (being precisely what you are) is not a failure. Don't buy the stereotype that dried-up sexlessness is your destiny, but if you're just not feeling sex anymore (at any age), that's okay too! Unless it's not okay with you! In which case you should talk to your doctor! All of these feelings are okay!
And I hear there are some great ideas on YouTube too.
Disturbingly cute image by Jim Cooke.