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40 Plus

September 9th, 2005

Dr Petra

The last few days there’s been lots of coverage in the press about a study suggesting sex is better for women who’re over forty.

In a way this is a refreshing change since we usually hear about women over forty hitting the menopause, going off sex and requiring medication. Or women not being sexy as they get older.

However we do have to be a little sceptical about this story. It was a survey of a women’s magazine aimed at women in their forties and older – so obviously it’s in their interest to generate income and interest with a catchy news story.

Most research suggests that women in their forties and older may report more positive sexual experiences than say women in their twenties and thirties. This could be because as women age they may get more confident and able to report sex positive answers in surveys. Or it could be that as their children grow up they’ve more time and are less tired so can enjoy sex more.

That said, many women who missed out on sex education, have a past history of abuse, or who have current relationship problems, not to mention those who don’t feel confident to masturbate or know or say what turns them on aren’t going to be having great sex just because they’ve turned forty.

Many of the reports within the newspapers were written by and for confident, affluent and able-bodied women aged under forty. And of those in their forties writing, most were in the celebrity category who try as hard as possible to look younger than they are.

But I can’t grumble too much, having features that let us know sex can be great aged forty or older is positive. Since many sex surveys have a cut off point of forty-five it’s important that we do collect and report on sex positive stories for older women – not just aged forty but into their eighties and beyond.

We do have to be careful given much of the spin on these stories is to make women aged over forty have sex and consume sex related products, and we need to enable women of all ages feel good about their bodies and get confident to communicate their desires. Simply telling us our sex lives begin at forty isn’t a way to do this.

The reality is that our sex lives peak and trough throughout our lifespan. The much-quoted statistic that women peak at forty isn’t accurate (it’s based on data from the 1950s when women weren’t able to admit desire when they were younger). I suspect based on this magazine’s PR ‘survey’ a new statistic will enter into popular culture – that sex gets better as you pass forty.

It can, but only if you either were positive about sex before then, or use your forties and beyond to learn more about your desires and are able to articulate them. Let’s hope that even though this wasn’t a real study, the interest generated could get more sex positive coverage for us all.

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