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Why 50-somethings have the best sex The middle-aged are pushing erotic boundaries

Still doing it. Credit: IMDb


December 7, 2021   4 mins

Sara has been looking for something — not a partner; more a constant, decorous lover — on dating apps for a year. A divorcee in her late 50s, she soon grew tired of the Milf-hunters on Bumble and Tinder, where the average age of users is around 30 and people in their late teens and 20s account for about 15% of the pool. And so Sara went on Lumen, the dating app for people over 50, and was promptly inundated with offers more urgently, earnestly sexual than anything the youngsters had come up with. Openly, her fellow 50-somethings — as well as 60 and even 70-somethings — requested to have sex with her. “I’d love to get to know you sexually as well as every other way,” ran one fairly typical message.

Those she went on dates with frequently turned out to be married, or single and committed to a polyamorous lifestyle. Most, like her, weren’t aiming for a conventional monogamous relationship. One man, around her age, had recently left his wife and two daughters to live in a bedsit and sleep with as many “girlfriends” as he could muster. Rana, a 47-year-old who tells men up front that she is only interested in having lovers, and will never again embrace monogamy, says that every last one of them has joyously accepted her terms.

Once, boomers’ sex lives were seen as an embarrassing topic; now, they’re exciting, worthy of attention from HBO, even. The remake of Sex and the City, And Just Like That, in which original cast members are now in their 50s, starts this week, and it has been heralded by some as the best instalment yet. “Let me tell you,” said star Sarah Jessica Parker in a recent interview, “there’s still a lot of sex in this version of Sex and the City.” As the series will make abundantly clear, sexual glamour is no longer the preserve of the young, although that’s partly thanks to technologies that keep people looking younger longer. Porn has also helped shift the relationship between age and sexiness, certainly for women, thanks to the rise of the Milf category.

Long a feature of the intellectual elite, the rich and the landed, sexual libertinism among the middle-aged is hardly new. It is newer for the middle classes, though, who became, in the West, less monogamous after World War Two. John Updike, in the Sixties, became known for a set of novels in which bored and angry married people, of varying degrees of affluence, took to sleeping with other people, including their friends’ wives and husbands. “Welcome to the post-pill paradise,” he wrote wryly in Couples (1968), set in 1963. (Working class morality before the Seventies was likely to preclude sexual and marital high-jinxery.)

But the picture of suburban, middle-class libertinism has changed. In the Sixties, the typical practitioner was younger, bored and miserable: the average age of couples getting married was lower, and women had fewer opportunities. But this stereotype has been replaced by a breed of boisterously exploratory 50-somethings in unashamed pursuit of personal fulfilment. This is partly because most moral strictures around sexuality have been eroded — including the final taboo of fidelity, which can now be dressed up as “ethical non-monogamy”, a phrase that now recurs on dating apps.

We have the progressive young to thank for this: Sietzke, a 57-year-old divorcee with four lovers, tells me that “people my sons’ age” — they are 25 and 28 — have “also helped by making it easier to bring these things up, to talk about them openly”. But “ethical non-monogamy” actually leaves some young people, especially women, frustrated or worse in their quest to find someone to settle down with; it’s actually well-to-do older people who seem to be reaping the sexual fruits. Some of these are bitter: STI rates in the over-50s doubled between 2002 and 2012, and have kept steadily rising.

And so we are at a strange pass. As the olds are merrily fucking, rates of sexual activity in the young have dropped. The preoccupation with being ‘correct’ is perhaps to blame, as well as the sheer barrage of terminology evident on all apps, but particularly on Feeld, the “dating app for couples and singles”, which describes itself as “a space where you can explore your identity” and “start connecting with open-minded humans”. Scrolling through an account, I struggled to understand what the men were saying. “A Dom [dominant] looking for FWB [friends with benefits], etc etc, I don’t prefer ONS [one night stands]…” wrote one. Another, defined as a “Man Queer”, introduced himself thus: “Playfights, cuddling, kissing, lake swimming are all good things. Maybe you want to do them? Say hi, make me feel pretty J.” A pan-sexual 29-year old’s “interests” were “crossdressing, pegging, cum play, lingerie, eye contact”.

The men might have been lovely people, but the way they presented themselves romantically was alien and didactic, even to me, a fairly liberal 39-year-old. The rise of these highly specific demands come, I suspect, from the infiltration of an identitarian politics into the bedroom — one that prizes kink and the erosion of boundaries as ‘inclusive’. Living on the internet has also given many young people a sense of entitlement to instant, bespoke results. Schooled in getting exactly what they want, they’re met with the confounding reality that humans are messier and needier than is convenient.

Back in the over-50s pool, there seems to be less taxonomising of self and kinks, and those who have had children seem less phased by the complications of having ‘lovers’ rather than either casual hook-ups or a conventional relationship. Many are simply going for broke, hoovering up what sensual pleasures they can — because they can. “As you get older — it’s sort of an Eastern idea — you sort of think, all you’ve got is now, which is much more valuable than a future I really think,” says Sietzke. In other words, age is a freeing agent. “There’s a liberation that comes from being older,” says Rana. ”You know life doesn’t last forever, so there’s an added incentive to give anything a try.”

Rana also points to the fact that being “financially independent” helps. Young people, understandably, are more likely to be focused on the future, and with getting on the housing ladder out of reach for most of them, especially those in the south, the quest for a partner is also a strategy for accruing financial stability and property — and a basis for having children. After her divorce, in her early 50s, Sietzke recalls being constantly told by well-meaning folk that she would meet someone again. It irritated her. “Finding someone is such a construct — someone? What do they mean by that?”

When you’ve had marriage and kids, this perspective makes sense. But for the millennials yet to pull off financial stability and a family, the old, unsexy quest for ‘someone’ may feel more natural. Libertinism is perfect when your traditional romantic life, and its fruits (children), are behind you. Those with the desire for a family and a home in front of them may feel that the joys of free love are not theirs to enjoy. Yet.


Zoe Strimpel is a historian of gender and intimacy in modern Britain and a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph. Her latest book is Seeking Love in Modern Britain: Gender, Dating and the Rise of ‘the Single’ (Bloomsbury)
realzoestrimpel

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Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago

I find the sheer shallowness of this stuff depressing. How have we reduced everything to the purely transactional?

With any personality at all, most people manage a few lovers before settling down. One night stands can be fun and, these days, the score may even confer some social status, but they soon pall as meaningful interactions with other people.

My old lady knows what I like, I know what she likes, and we have a lot of fun. I can fantasise about whatever, but the reality of repeatedly renegotiating the landscape of these intimate moments, with an endless queue of casual acquaintances, sounds like hell to me.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Totally agree. And rather typically, these people who laud these transactional relationships usually trivialise family and companionship – as this writer does in casually referring to the bloke who has left his daughters.
I think memories and experiences, and the sharing of these, define your life; and wrenching yourself away from a partner and a family when a relationship breaks down would require extreme circumstances, miles and miles beyond the ‘value’ of better sexual transactions, for me to warrant going down that path.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

Well I’m 50, perimenopausal and feel about as sexual as a tree trunk at the moment. I hope this article is a glimpse of some sexual utopia just waiting for me at the other end…

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

At either end, according to the article.

Robert Hochbaum
RH
Robert Hochbaum
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

A tree trunk. That’s pretty funny. I’m still chuckling.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

Knotty but nice.

Robert Hochbaum
Robert Hochbaum
2 years ago

Ha!

Al M
Al M
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

A tree trunk, you say? Might I suggest the 1973 horror anthology Tales that Witness Madness? Should provide some food for thought 🙂

Cheryl Jones
CJ
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

LOL thanks guys 🙂

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

It must still be there subconsciously.

All that wood!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

For a woman, the 40s are the best!

Mathilda Eklund
Mathilda Eklund
2 years ago

“Eye contact” being a kink for some might be the saddest thing I’ve read all year..
But it not just being standard behaviour makes sense for a generation that seem to have grown close to autistic traits because of technology.. if you don’t learn human body language through personal interactions eye contact is probably difficult, even in intimate situations. And this probably won’t get better by the next generation growing up completely devoid of facial features because of masks.

Last edited 2 years ago by Mathilda Eklund
David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

Rana, a 47-year-old who tells men up front that she is only interested in having lovers, and will never again embrace monogamy, says that every last one of them has joyously accepted her terms.

Crikey – men saying yes to no strings, no fee sex – now there’s a shocker. How the world has changed.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

I’ve heard about a bit of this, through female friends, and what a desperate and cynical substitute it is for loving and being loved.
One woman I heard of, having invited her “lover” to a party, found out afterwards that he’d spent the evening asking her friends for their phone numbers. Others are desperately lonely, but making the most of the crumbs they get thrown by married men.
And regardless of age, the difficult thing for a woman isn’t getting a man to sleep with her, it’s getting him to stick around afterwards. And when he leaves, she knows in her heart who was using whom.
There’s an awful lot of rather desperate self deception going on here.

Last edited 2 years ago by David Morley
Alan Hawkes
AH
Alan Hawkes
2 years ago

I can understand all this for the divorced, or widowed, but is there no pride left in fidelity for the married?

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 years ago

The day had started well despite depressing Parisian weather…….and then I read this.
I understand why I keep watching these YouTube videos showing owners cuddling with their Golden retrievers.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

The men might have been lovely people, but the way they presented themselves romantically was alien and didactic

Not really, it’s just transactional. If all you are looking for is someone to use for your own satisfaction, why beat about the bush.
I’m guessing that most of these men would use younger prostitutes if they could afford it. Perhaps they do that as well. But for a cheap, easy alternative, why not make use of late middle age women desperate for validation.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

“As you get older — it’s sort of an Eastern idea — you sort of think, all you’ve got is now, which is much more valuable than a future I really think,” says Sietzke.
This one had me laughing out loud. I didn’t realise that sad old birds desperately reliving their twenties in their sixties was a central idea of Buddhism.

Karl Francis
Karl Francis
2 years ago

Dear oh dear, oh dear… (sigh).

Brendan O'Leary
BO
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

Maybe there’s cause for optimism yet.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

Or at least a kind of muted, desperate pessimism.

Geoffrey Simon Hicking
Geoffrey Simon Hicking
2 years ago

The richer the middle-class get, the more like the nobility they become.

Would be interesting to see Strimpel debate Mary Harrington.

David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

And the less noble.

Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
2 years ago

My god. Can people, particularly middle aged women, please just have some dignity.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
David Morley
David Morley
2 years ago

To be honest, men and women. You’d think, after all those years, they’d be embarrassed to return to behaving like (less intelligent) teenagers in their fifties and sixties.
I’m no puritan. If people fall in love, and make love, at that age I think it’s fantastic. But to spend those years taking a last few spins on the c-ck carousel before you snuff it is pretty degrading.

Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
AN
Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
2 years ago
Reply to  David Morley

Oh yeah I’m all for people falling in love, and getting it on if they wish, no matter what age. But why the need to talk to journalists about it? It destroys eroticism and just makes them look like sad old desperate slags.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

‘A historian of intimacy’. I rest my case.

Gerard Delahunty
GD
Gerard Delahunty
2 years ago

Utter baloney. What % of women have at least one child under the age of 25? Well 99% of those women have zero interest in sex, neither with their ‘partner’ nor anyone else.

a.youngserf
O
a.youngserf
2 years ago

Cope.

William Shaw
William Shaw
2 years ago

“the quest for a partner is also a strategy for accruing financial stability and property – and a basis for having children”
Certainly true for women. Less so for men.

Last edited 2 years ago by William Shaw