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Lust, sex and the middle-aged woman

Women’s sexuality doesn’t die with age, but the level of their desire is diverse.

By Margaret Jennings

She seemed to have it all: a loving family, successful career and beautiful home.

Then Yvonne Carmichael jeopardised everything by having a torrid affair with a random stranger, ripping apart the cosy trajectory of her life.

Yvonne is the lead character in a BBC1 mini-series currently steaming up our TV screens, called Apple Tree Yard.

And while the storyline takes us from the joys of lust to the darkness of rape, it’s rare to see a 50-something female take centre stage in such scenes.

Midlife affairs are usually the reserve of testosterone-driven, crisis-ridden males — as if females have no such needs — or so the media world would have us believe.

Apple Tree Yard, a dramatised version of a novel by Amanda Coe, challenges pre-conceived ideas about middle-age sex.

It not only affirms that it’s OK for older women to be sexually expressive, it annihilates the myth that we become “invisible” and asexual just because we are ageing.

The four-part psychological thriller has prompted a lively debate on this issue and 50-year — old actress Emily Watson, who plays Yvonne, has commented: “Your sexuality doesn’t die with your age. You don’t have to apologise for it.”

The idea that our sexuality can be compartmentalised as non-existent, especially as we are living longer more vital lives, seems absurd.

While Yvonne’s torrid affair illustrates this explicitly, it also raises the issue of how our latent sexual urges are perfectly ripe to be reignited at this stage of life, depending on our circumstances and responses.

“Many women of 50 and beyond succumb to a flagging libido, more difficult arousal and maybe a stale, longtime relationship, by retreating from sex.

“Then they meet someone new and — bam — they feel the excitement that they thought they had left far behind,” says Joan Price, a US author and blogger on senior sexuality.

“They feel on fire. Their sex drive — which they thought was dormant — goes into overdrive. It can be quite an amazing and delicious experience. It can also be bewildering and guilt-filled, if a woman has an affair when she’s in a committed, monogamous relationship.”

Price, now 72, has first- hand experience of this herself: “I was 57 when I met the man who would become my husband and great love. I had been single for decades, with occasional relationships that didn’t go anywhere — and long dry spells.

“It was distressing, because I knew I was a vibrant, sexual being, but after menopause I seemed invisible to the men I met. Many women report that they feel the same. How glorious it is then, when we meet the right person and that person is as electrified as we are!”

The on-screen electricity between research scientist and grandmother-to-be Yvonne, and her handsome lover, Mark Costley (played by Ben Chaplin), is an endorsement of this passionate potential, but is there something missing in our relationship if we yearn to seek those sparks elsewhere?

Sex in relationships is not just about sex, but about the connect between a woman and her partner, says Lisa O’Hara, a couple counsellor with Dublin-based clinic Mind and Body Works.

“If lack of libido is an issue for a couple attending for counselling, it can be part of a wider discontent than just the sexual connection. There may be a loss of closeness in general and resentments by the woman towards the partner that have built up over years, which have gone unaddressed.

“If these are addressed in therapy and things improve, sex may be back once again.”

However, some of her midlife female clients do develop a stronger curiosity about their own desires and fantasies, once free of fear of pregnancy or of other lifestyle issues that had got in the way, says O’Hara.

“Some say ‘I’m out of here’. It totally depends on their unique circumstances and how they feel about themselves.”

The myth that we become less sexual as we age was recently explored in research among women aged 55 to 81, titled Sex, Desire and Pleasure: Considering the experiences of older Australian Women.

Research author Bianca Fileborn, a lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales, tells Feelgood: “One of the key findings from our research was that women are really diverse — there’s certainly not one way that older women are ‘doing’ sexuality and sexual desire in mid to later life.

Emily Watson’s as character Yvonne Carmichael in the BBC production of ‘Apple Tree Yard’.

“In fact quantitative research carried out in western countries pretty consistently shows that a significant number of older people remain sexually active — usually a majority — at least until they reach ‘deep’ old age, in their 80s and 90s. But even then, a large minority still have sex.

“Another key finding for us was that women’s desire for sex didn’t depend necessarily on how older they were, but what else was going on their lives that influenced them.”

Irish sexologist Emily Power Smith says she knows women of all ages who, although they’re living with chronic illness and pain, are “determined to find ways to feel sexual”.

“Women who enjoy sex will have sexual desire right to the end of their lives and will find creative ways to keep that spark. But I also work with a number of women in their 50s and above, who want to know what all the fuss is about, because they could quite easily never have sex again.

“Inevitably it transpires that they have never really enjoyed sex. As they begin to discover their ability to feel sexual pleasure and arousal, their drives tend to increase.”

ONCE we are leading healthy lives low libido seems more related to the kind of sex we are having, rather than our age, she says.

“I know many young fertile women who hate sex and many older women, post menopause, who love it. Increasingly, there is research to show that older women embarking on new relationships report no reduction whatsoever in their sexual desire.”

Whatever about the complex rich reality of older women’s everyday sex lives, the screening of Apple Tree Yard may nudge the film and media world towards a more rounded representation of the mature female in all her sensual glory.

And perhaps even encourage women to explore their own sexuality more.

There is a growing posse of sexy women in their 50s and older decades, gracing the fashion and beauty world, in recent times, apart from the fact that some of the original supermodels of the ’90s, such as Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson and Linda Evangelista are already past the half century mark.

This year’s Pirelli calendar also sees photographer Peter Lindbergh tap into the zeitgeist, describing the make-up free portraits of his subjects as a “cry against perfection and youth”.

Some of the high-achieving women he chose to feature were actresses Julianne Moore, 56, Charlotte Rampling, 70, and Helen Mirren, 71.

However, despite this celebration of our vitality as we age, we still may have some catching up to do as individuals, says Power Smith.

“Women do a lot of self-policing when it comes to behaviour, dress and dating over a certain age. I think we are so conditioned to believe our lives are over once we’re 50 — though this is changing slowly — we get very troubled at the thought of our peers wearing short skirts, or dating younger people. But the rules don’t serve us. They never did.

“Only now some of us have the financial freedom, confidence and ability to create new norms. So come on! Let’s break some rules!”

Apple Tree Yard, BBC One, Sunday February 5, 9pm

10 ways to feel sexy

Senior sexpert, author and blogger, Joan Price, gives us these 10 tips for hot sex after 50:

1. Slo-o- o-w- w down. It takes longer for us to warm up, and this intensifies as we get older. Make the warm-up phase of sex play last hours… or days.

2. Appreciate, decorate, and celebrate your body. Jewellery, lingerie, feathers, fringe, silk, velvet, massage oil, candlelight — whatever looks good and feels good. If you know you look sexy, you’ll feel sexy.

3. Learn what you like. Explore, experiment. If you’re partnered, communicate what you like.

4. Do sexy things on your own to get in the mood long before you get naked. Work out. Swim. Dance. Fantasise a sexy scene. Spend some time humming with a vibrator, reading erotica, or watching porn — or all of these.

5. Have sex during high energy times, when your arousal is strongest, whether solo or partnered.

6. If you’re partnered, kiss and kiss. Kiss sweetly, passionately, quickly, slowly, contentedly, hungrily, lightly. All kinds of kisses help you bond with your partner, warm up, and enjoy the moment.

7. Explore sex toys and other erotic helpers, alone and/or with a partner. Lucky for us that sex toys are easy to find, fun to try, and wow, do they work!

8. Use a silky lubricant. There are many different lubricants made specifically for sex that feel great and enhance (or bring back) the joy of friction. Make applying lubricant an erotic part of sex play.

9. Enjoy the afterglow. If you’re partnered, indulge in quality snuggle time.

Solo, don’t get back to your daily life right away — bask in your feelings of wellbeing.

10. Laugh a lot. Laughter is joyful, ageless — and sexy.

Complete Article HERE!

Better Sleep Could Mean Better Sex for Older Women

By Robert Preidt

A more satisfying sex life may be only a good night’s sleep away for women over 50, new research finds.

Researchers led by Dr. Juliana Kling of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., tracked data from nearly 94,000 women aged 50 to 79.

The investigators found that 31 percent had insomnia, and a little more than half (56 percent) said they were somewhat or very satisfied with their sex life.

But too little sleep — fewer than seven to eight hours a night — was linked with a lower likelihood of sexual satisfaction, the findings showed.

“This is a very important study since it examines a question which has tremendous potential impact on women’s lives,” said Dr. Jill Rabin, who reviewed the findings. She’s co-chief of the Women’s Health Program at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Age played a key role in outcomes. For example, the study found that older women were less likely than younger women to be sexually active if they slept fewer than seven to eight hours per night.

Among women older than 70, those who slept fewer than five hours a night were 30 percent less likely to be sexually active than women sleeping seven to eight hours, Kling’s team found.

The findings highlight how crucial sleep is to many aspects of women’s health, medical experts said.

“Seven hours of sleep per night will improve sexual satisfaction and has been shown to increase sexual responsiveness,” said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of The North American Menopause Society.

Besides putting a damper on sex lives, she said, poor sleep is also tied to an array of health issues, such as “sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, stress and anxiety.” Other health problems linked to insomnia include “heart disease, hypertension [high blood pressure], arthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, depression and neurological disorders,” Pinkerton added.

Dr. Steven Feinsilver directs sleep medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He reviewed the new findings and stressed that they can’t prove cause and effect. “It certainly could be possible that many underlying problems — for example, illness, depression — could be causing both worsened sleep and worsened sex,” he noted.

Rabin agreed, but said there’s been “a paucity of studies” looking into links between sleep and sexual health, especially during menopause.

“We know that obstructive sleep apnea and sexual dysfunction are positively correlated,” she said. “Other factors which may lead to a decreased sleep quality include: a woman’s general health; various life events, which may contribute to her stress; chronic disease; medication; and degree and presence of social supports, just to name a few,” Rabin explained.

And, “in menopause, and due to the hormonal transition, women may experience various symptoms which may impact the duration and quality of their sleep patterns,” Rabin added.

We and our patients need to know that quality sleep is necessary for overall optimum functioning and health, including sexual satisfaction, and that there are effective treatment options — including hormone therapy — which are available for symptomatic women,” she said.

The study was published online Feb. 1 in the journal Menopause.

Complete Article HERE!

Contraception influences sexual desire in committed relationships

The role of human sex outside of reproduction remains something of an evolutionary mystery. But scientists believe that it is partly about tying the parties in the relationship together.

By Liv Ragnhild Sjursen

How often women in heterosexual couples desire sex depends on how committed the relationship is and what type of birth control the woman uses.

Sex is quite wonderful when the goal is to have children. But sex can also serve as a “glue” in a committed relationship.

Most animals have periods when they come into heat, and outside of these periods they don’t find sex interesting at all.

Humans, however, are constantly interested in sex. This interest can seem like a waste of energy, but an evolutionary perspective may explain why we function this way.

More sex with progesterone and commitment

A new study from NTNU and the University of New Mexico confirm that sex is important for pair–bonding between men and women in relationships.

The researchers also found a correlation between the type of oral contraceptive women use and how often couples have sex.

The findings were recently published in the scientific journal Evolution & Human Behavior.

“The function of sex in humans outside ovulation is an evolutionary mystery. But we believe that it has to do with binding the parties in the relationship together,” says Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair, a professor of psychology at NTNU.

Kennair worked with Trond Viggo Grøntvedt, Nick Grebe and University of New Mexico Professor Steve Gangestad to ask hundreds of Norwegian heterosexual women about contraception, sex and relationships.

Their results show that of women in long-term relationships and who are using hormonal contraception, those who are more committed to their relationships have more sex with partners, as one might expect.

“But this association was especially true when the contraceptive that women used had potent levels of synthetic hormones that mimic the effects of the natural hormone progesterone, and lower levels of the hormone oestrogen,” Gangestad said.

“We’re talking about intercourse here, not other types of sex like oral sex, masturbation and such. This strengthens the idea that sex outside the ovulation phase has a function besides just pleasure,” says Grøntvedt.

Big differences between types of contraceptives

Hormonal contraceptives, like birth control pills, implantable rods and patches, contain two types of hormones:

Oestrogen, which naturally peaks just before ovulation when naturally cycling women can conceive offspring, and hormones that have the same effect as progesterone, which naturally peaks during the extended sexual phase, a time when offspring cannot be conceived.

The levels of each hormone type vary in different contraceptives. Hence, some contraceptives mimic hormones that are more characteristic of ovulation, whereas others mimic hormones when women can’t conceive.

The women who used contraception with more oestrogen were most sexually active when they were in a less committed relationship.

On the other hand, women who used contraception with more progesterone were the most sexually active when they were faithful and loyal to their partners.

“Before we did this study, we didn’t know how much difference there was between the two types of hormonal contraceptives,” says Grøntvedt.

A credible holistic picture

The researchers surveyed two groups of women. All the women were using hormonal contraception and were in committed, heterosexual relationships.

One group consisted of 112 women that researchers followed over a 12-week period. The women were asked how often and when in their cycle they had sex.

The second sample group consisted of 275 women in long–term relationships who used hormonal contraception.

This group was not followed over time, but the researchers asked them how many times they had had sex in the past week. This type of study – using data collected at a specific point in time – is called a cross-sectional study.

Both groups were asked to indicate the type of contraception they were using, and if a pill, which brand it was.

“Since we examined these two groups using different methods – a snapshot for the one group and a longitudinal study for the other – we can be confident that the results provide a reliable overall picture,” Grøntvedt said.

Natural or synthetic hormones had similar effects

The basis for the NTNU study was a 2013 American study, where 50 women and their partners answered a series of questions about their relationships, menstrual cycles and frequency of sex.

None of these women were using any kind of hormonal contraception, so only their natural hormones were involved.

The study showed that women initiated sex more in the extended sexual phase – when they were not ovulating and progesterone was the dominant hormone – if they were invested in the relationship.

NTNU researchers wanted to verify the American results in their study, but with participants who were using a hormonal contraceptive that simulates a natural cycle.

Their results were the same as in the US study, in which women were not using any hormonal birth control.

The researchers were thus able to show that how often women have sex is linked to how committed they feel towards their partner and the type of hormone they are governed by, whether natural or synthetic.

“A lot of social psychology studies that have led to cool discoveries through the ages have lost status, because it hasn’t been possible to copy them and verify the results.”

“We are extremely pleased to have been able to verify the results of the study by Grebe and his colleagues, and we are equally pleased that we have also made new discoveries,” Kennair says.

Complete Article HERE!

Should Shame Be Used to Treat Sexual Compulsions?

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The concept of “sex addiction” has become deeply embedded in our culture — people toss the term around pretty easily, and it’s the subject of TV shows, documentaries, and a profitable cottage industry of treatment centers. The problem is, as Science of Us has noted before, the scientific evidence for sex addiction being similar to alcohol or drug addiction is very, very thin, and it may be the case that people who believe or are told they have sex addiction actually have other stuff going on.

And yet, it’s undoubtedly the case that many people show up at therapists’ offices worried about sexual behavior that feels compulsive. How do therapists who are skeptical of the idea of sex addiction deal with these patients? That’s the question at the center of an interesting article in SELF by Zahra Barnes.

Barnes does a good job laying out the strong majority view that “sex addiction” shouldn’t be viewed in the same way as other, more scientifically validated forms of addiction, and she also contrasts the way different sorts of therapists deal with sexually compulsive behavior. As she explains, therapists who hew to the majority view often take a “harm reduction” approach to patients who are complaining of compulsive behavior.

“It’s humanistic, meaning it privileges the subjective experience of a person and doesn’t try to apply some external model on what they’re describing, and it’s culturally libertarian, meaning as long as they’re not hurting anyone, you allow people to behave the way that they want and give them the space to do it,” said Michael Aaron, Ph.D., a sex therapist in New York City and author of Modern Sexuality.]

This method can work for people troubled by their sexual urges and those with compulsive sexual behavior. “Rather than trying to change something, we need to acknowledge it and embrace it,” Aaron says. He offers the example of someone who has fantasies of traumatizing children sexually or being sexually violent toward women: “The harm reduction approach asks, can you play out some of these themes with a consenting partner?” The aim is to satisfy these desires with a willing partner instead of suppressing them, which can just make them stronger, he explains.

Therapists who do believe in the addiction model work differently, and where this difference manifests itself most strongly is in their approach to shame. While Aaron and other harm-reduction researchers try to stay away from shaming their patients, which they say can worsen compulsive behaviors, believers in the sex-addiction model see things differently:

“Sex addicts need to feel some shame about what they’re doing, because they are shameless. When people are shameless, they rape and murder and steal and pillage and get into politics,” [says Alexandra Katehakis, clinical director of the Center for Healthy Sex.]. But this is different from shaming someone, she says. “Shaming in an unprincipled way is out of bounds [for a mental health professional],” she explains. That would include saying or even implying that someone is disgusting based on what they’re doing. Rather, she asks questions designed to make someone reflect on what their actions have wrought, like, “What do you think that feels like for your partner?” It’s helpful, not damaging, she explains, because, “It challenges them to see what they’re doing, and it brings them into the reality of their behavior.”

It seems like one of the key philosophical differences here is the question of the extent to which people can control their most primal sexual urges. The therapists who don’t believe in sex addiction appear to view people’s sexual preferences (for lack of a better term given they probably aren’t preferences) in a holistic context — if people are “acting out” sexually in a way that harms others, it could be because of other stuff going on in their lives. You address the behavior by addressing the root causes. The believers, on the other hand, focus more on the urges and finding ways to address the behavior and urges in and of themselves.

These approaches aren’t fully compatible, so it’s no surprise there’s tension between the majority of sex researchers who don’t believe in the addiction model and the minority who do.

Complete Article http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/01/should-shame-be-used-to-treat-sexual-compulsions.html!

Worried your partner might have a bisexual history? Why?

Myths about LGBTQ sexual health need debunking – and healthcare professionals are part of the problem

‘You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality.’

By

“Use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” was the drill from sexual health practitioners who came to speak at my comprehensive school in Kent. There wasn’t much detail or thought beyond, “Some of these boys are going to get some of these girls pregnant before they hit 16 – let’s try to get that down to a lower number than we had last year.”

Thankfully, when it comes to the subject of sexual identity, there’s now more guidance than ever trickling down into the societal subconscious in the west – hopefully in schools, but certainly during publicity rounds for films starring Kelly Rowland and Cat Deeley. While talking about Love By the 10th Date to the New York Post last week, Rowland espoused the importance of knowledge when embarking on a sexual relationship with another: “I can’t tell someone how to feel about dating someone who is bisexual or had a past gay experience, but it’s proper to ask [if they have] in today’s times.”

It is “proper” to ask? Maybe it’s unfortunate phrasing, or maybe not being able to hear the tone of voice in which the opinion was offered gives it negative impact, but the sentence rings faintly of suspicion and mild disapproval: “Please submit your history of sex with people of the same gender, and it will then be decided whether or not you are too risky to be intimate with.” That’s how it comes across to this particular someone who is “bisexual or [has] had a past gay experience”, anyway.

Bisexuality just continues to have a bad rep, even though it’s on the rise (according to CNN) … or then again, maybe it’s not on the rise (according to the Verge). Statistics on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and which groups of people are spreading them, are easily found (and quickly wielded by those mistrustful of anything beyond heteronormativity), but they can obscure a simple and universal truth that applies to all groups, whether those groups are on the rise or not. And that is: whatever genitalia you and your partner(s) have, you should protect yourselves (condom/dental dam/wash your hands and accoutrement between uses, thank you). Ignoring that fact in favour of “it’s the bisexuals, mostly” is the source of so much harm.

You don’t have to openly identify as bisexual to get the bad side of bisexuality, because it goes beyond the myths of promiscuity, greed and dishonesty still held by some – biphobia also has an impact on physical health. Here in the UK, if you’re a man who’s had sex with another man in the last 12 months, you can’t donate blood (though that stance is currently being reviewed). Women who have sex with women are less likely to get a smear test, because many of us don’t realise we need to – we’re forgotten by the healthcare system, or our needs are misunderstood.

“Gay and bisexual women are at lower risk for HPV,” we confidently tell each other, “we don’t need a smear test.” A lot of us have heard that from our doctors, as well. It was only after seeing a leaflet about the issue from lgbthealth.org.uk during this month’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week that I realised this was just ignorance.

In 2008, Stonewall released findings that one in 50 lesbian and bisexual women had been refused a smear test, even when they requested one. The 2015 survey on training gaps in healthcare, Unhealthy Attitudes, found that three in four patient-facing staff had not received any training on the health needs of LGBTQ people. Many women get variations of the “use a condom, the pill, or get an IUD – avoid pregnancy” mantra from our doctors to this day, if we don’t declare our gayness or bisexuality as we walk through the surgery door. Sometimes even a declaration is ignored by an uncomfortable practitioner. Straightness is still automatically assumed, unless you’re lucky enough to have a doctor who doesn’t see heterosexuality as the default for everyone they treat.

According to that 2015 Stonewall study, a third of healthcare professionals felt that the NHS and social care services should be doing more to meet the needs of LGBTQ patients, which is encouraging. Knowledge is wanted – needed – to undo the harmful myths that block help and prevent education. And that is what is “proper” (to quote the star of Freddy vs Jason and Love By the 10th Date) – fighting ignorance and biphobia, rather than continuing to be suspicious of sexual histories that might have featured people of the same gender. Whatever and whoever is in our sexual pasts, we must protect each other, and stay informed. That’s healthy.

Complete Article HERE!