When Rose first asked me to write about sex and the older man, I wondered what I would have to say about it, and I suppose I may be an outlier, but I don’t think the six-second rule – yes, older men think about sex every six seconds too – has really changed over the years. You don’t have to be a card-carrying Freudian to know that it is something to do with your parents. More specifically, for us men, our relationship with our mothers.
My mother was a six-foot-tall, slim blonde, who had a modelling career, was a singer in a group with Elaine Paige and in the musical, Oliver. It is clear to me now that she was pretty sexually obsessed herself. I remember finding her vibrator, a copy of the Joy of Sex, and a jar of vaseline in her chest of drawers at quite a young age and being intrigued rather than anything else. When I think back now, I realise that, because she had me at 19, she was probably in her early 30s at the time, a fact that seems almost incomprehensible now. She lived her life in technicolour and died at 80, still hoping that her consultant would whisk her away on his NHS white horse and marry her to give her the life to which she was sure she would become accustomed. I don’t think he had any say in the matter.
Then there were those pubescent years in which my mates and I hid very tame soft-core pornography in carrier bags in the woods – tell young people today, and they don’t believe you – back in the day when people still had pubic hair. Then there were the teenage years when the mere proximity of a girl would give me a fit of the vapours and an erection that seemed to last for weeks. (At Whitehawk Count Secondary School in Brighton my nickname was “tentpole” for a while). This gave way to my 20s and 30s when I gathered sexual experiences and became ‘a man’. Then there was ‘the one’ and kids and a stable and happy family life followed by disillusionment, divorce and bedsit years.
And now, all of a sudden and after another failed marriage, I am in my 60s and largely surplus to requirements, both in terms of work, family and often sexually. As a baby boomer who took early retirement on disability grounds, and who worked in the public sector as a university lecturer, I have a decent enough, though not lavish, pension and finally enough money to live on. When you reach this age, the mortgage is probably paid off and you are rattling around in the now empty family home, or maybe you have a little flat on your own, somewhere less expensive than London or the home counties. And yet all the dreams you had – if you had any – back at 16 have flowed out into a wide, expansive estuary, in which birdwatching has become a favourite pursuit. There are no more rapids to shoot or narrow gorges to navigate. Having complained all your life about being too busy, you are now not busy enough.
And so, if you are lucky, your thoughts turn back to sex. But what does a 62-year-old man bring to the party – even if he gets an invitation? For many older men, an exciting sex life will either never have happened or be a distant memory. We grew up in a time that still had one nostalgic foot in the buttoned-up Imperial age while still making enormous strides into a more complex future.The boat was leaving, but we looked like one of those people in the funny videos with one foot on the jetty and one on the boat. That never ends well.
Social and cultural attitudes towards sex and sexual relationships have undergone unimaginable changes since the 1950s. Things that were once taboo are now generally accepted and things that were once taken to be simply the natural order of the world have been revealed as social constructs. In our lifetime things that were once illegal are now celebrated gloriously. It is very easy at our age – and to extend the river metaphor perhaps a little too far – to feel that we have missed several boats and that there won’t be another one along before the boatman comes to carry us over the Styx.
But for many men in their 60s, if you take the opportunities on offer, things can be very different. Putting disabilities and chronic illnesses to one side, we are often still physically in quite good shape. Thanks to medical and technological breakthroughs, we can expect to live for a long time still. If we keep ourselves fit, we can extend that even further. When it comes to sex, drugs like Viagra mean that for many, age or illness-related impotence is often no longer the problem it once was.
The new openness about sexual relations also means that all sorts of new lifestyles and practices – from swinging to pegging – are no longer kept in the closet. This openness also means that communication between partners can be much easier than it was. It is more possible to have the vocabulary to discuss your needs and desires than it was in the ‘good old days’. Social media, though not unproblematic in their practices around young people, offers us oldies the opportunity to find our sex positive tribes at last. There are hundreds of sites out there, providing a means to find everything from a lifetime partner to a friend with benefits (FWB), a playmate or a quick bunk up.
Of course, there are downsides to this development as well. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are growing fastest amongst the over 50s. According to Age UK, the number of people in the 50-90 age group have seen a doubling of the rates of chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and genital herpes, at the same time as these rates are falling within the 18-24 age group. Condom use amongst older people is lower for two reasons: firstly cultural, in that the reluctance surrounding them from a previous age still hangs on, compounded by ignorance about how much more available and better they are today; secondly, because post-menopausal women are not going to become pregnant – a huge relief to everyone, but not conducive to barrier methods.
So the six second rule still applies at 62, as far as I can work out. The opportunity to have sex is probably as restricted as it was when I was a teenager, but masturbation is a more time and energy-consuming hobby than it was back then. The level of frustration is lower than it was, and the level of satisfaction probably greater. Since hitting my 60s, I have had more varied, and more exciting sex than ever before. I have done some things that I only could have dreamed of back in my tentpole days, and I hope there are more adventures to come.
If there is one thing that is true in your 60s, it is that you are mature enough to talk to your partner about your desires and fantasies, and hopefully mature enough to put them into action as well. Communication is the key and you may find that in talking to your partner openly and honestly, you will discover that they too have had similar thoughts and fantasies all along.
There is no time to lose, make a start today!