Debates: Is Life After 40 Hot Or Not?


Middle age: a slow slide towards death in which you lose your looks, your social relevance, and your attractiveness to men? A vibrant sexual heyday of bed-hopping and multiple orgasms? Or both?

Sally Brampton of the Daily Mail takes the first position. A depression sufferer herself, she writes that almost 25% of the British middle-aged women suffer from the disease, a 20% increase in the last 15 years. It’s no wonder, she says, because,

We balance home and work, teenagers and elderly parents, empty nest syndrome and separation anxiety – as in separated from a society that tells us that the only body and face worth having is a young body and face. In other words, we feel overworked, over-looked and biologically redundant.

Joanna Moorhead in the Guardian tells a different story — “women in their 40s,” she writes, “are having the best sex of their lives.” She quotes psychotherapist Jane Polden, who says,

Younger women are much more likely to be obsessed with their appearance, their weight and so on, and worries about those things sap their self-confidence and get in the way of them enjoying themselves. Older women are more confident of who they are, and it’s a deep-seated confidence, which means they’re not scared of intimacy, and they’re not scared of going all out for what they need to feel satisfied.

However, what they need may be men other than their husbands. Hormonal changes may bring on a “moment of realisation” that causes women to look outside their marriages — the most common age for women to have affairs is 45, and women’s STI rates are highest between the ages of 45 and 54 (of course, an STI doesn’t mean you’re having an affair). If anything, this makes it sound like middle-aged men — or at least husbands — are the “redundant” ones.

Moorhead also quotes New Joy of Sex author Susan Quilliam, who puts a depressing spin on all this extramarital midlife boning. During middle age, she says, “We’re losing our looks: it’s a wake-up call to the fact that we won’t go on forever, that one day in the no longer impossibly distant future, we’re going to die. And sex and death are very closely related. Put crudely, we fuck to prove we’re alive.”

Marcelle D’Argy Smith, writing in the Daily Mail, disagrees. Middle-aged women are having great sex, she says, “but it’s hardly to do with ‘the railing at the inevitability of death’ and ‘losing our looks.’ It has more to do with pent-up lust and unexpressed emotions; of words unsaid, and the kind of grown-up sex that probably doesn’t happen at home with a partner.”

Whether or not middle-aged women are trading couplehood for unbridled lust — and whether or not it’s possible to have “grown-up sex” with someone you love — we like the idea that growing older means caring less what other people think. It’s true that society still tells us, as Brampton says, that only young bodies and faces matter. But maybe the older we get, the less we have to listen. Lisa Kogan of Oprah Magazine ends her meditation on her own middle age with these lines from Dorothy Parker:

But now I know the things I know,
And do the things I do;
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you!

Sounds pretty good to us.

Middle-age Depression: Why IS It On The Rise? [Daily Mail]
The Joy Of Confidence [Guardian]
Who Says It’s Just The Young Who Have Passionate Love Lives? Does A Woman’s Sex Life Really Begin At Forty? [Daily Mail]
Confessions Of A 40-something Woman [ via CNN]

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