The next group was the LL’s — the lowered libidos — who also represented 12% of the total.
These women had totally given up on sex, or were simply complying with their husbands’ or partners’ demands. Most of them were married, and most of the rest were divorced; the only thing that they all had in common was that they had had a lowered libido since going through the menopause.
Gail Sheehy In Person
This group don’t do anything about it, they don’t even find the motivation to take hormone replacement therapy or vaginal estrogen and they rarely enjoy masturbation or introduce a novelty into their marriages. Once again, like the SQs, they put very little energy into seeking any change in their situation.
Sheehy makes the point that these categories are not fixed, in the sense that we can move between different categories at different points in our lives, a fact which might be encouraging for women who feel stuck in a situation that seems suffocating and prevents them from growing.
One of the things that comes across again and again in her book is that women over 50 who make the leap out of a dead or dying relationship — whether propelled by desperation or by desire — say that they are having the best sex of their lives.
It’s fascinating how a point in the development of a woman’s life which has traditionally been regarded as the end of her sexually active period can in fact be precisely the opposite and lead to exuberant, joyous sex which provides more fulfilment than ever before.
But of course the question is, what’s actually necessary to achieve this? Is good health essential, or financial independence? Do you need to be an optimistic personality to attract a mate who wants to enjoy sex with you? Or is it about your luck?
- The answer is that whatever situation you’re in at the moment, whether married or divorced, whether living with a partner where sex is dull or indeed completely non-existent, this is the time at which you have to do something to achieve a more passionate life, and that might mean making some important choices.
- So the questions that you might need to ask yourself include:
- Who am I now that I’ve reached maturity?
- What do I see as the benefits of middle age?
- What do I see as the threats and opportunities of growing old?
- Do I have a passionate interest in something that sustains me?
- How is my present life partner supporting me or frustrating the achievement of my objectives?
- Am I still sexually desirable?
- Am I still sexually active?
- How long do I believe I’m actually going to live?
- And how am I going to live the years that remain for me?
- Do I want to spend the rest of my life in a marriage or enjoying casual relationships?
- And, perhaps above all, what will be spiritually fulfilling to me?
In some sense passion is the thing that drives every aspect of human life. That doesn’t necessarily mean sexual passion, it just means passion in the sense of a fervent desire to pursue something you can pour all of your energies into. Finding something you love to do is essential for your spiritual fulfilment.
And it’s not just about having a hobby that you enjoy: it’s about finding something that actually generates excitement and exhilaration as well commitment to your own future. Gail Sheehy talks about reaching back into your own adolescence to find the dream that slipped past you without your noticing it go by. What was that idea, that dream, the thing that motivated you, that you always wanted to achieve or to do?
(I don’t agree with this. What motivates you in midlife can be very different than what motivated you earlier in life, but it’s not a bad way of starting to identify what your passion might be in the years ahead. But it’s true that a life without purpose is a spiritually empty life. And there is a fundamental link between finding the passionate pursuit that will enliven the second half of your life, and reopening the doorway to sexual pleasure, real intimacy, and companionship.)
The most profound aspect of this philosophy is the belief that the object is to reach mature love and a sense of meaning and purpose that lasts until the end of your life. Gail Sheehy also claims that the third thread of the passionate life is spiritual exploration: meditation, prayer, yoga; indeed anything that leads to a deeper understanding of your place in relationship to the world could be seen as a spiritual pastime. What to make of this?
For those who have come here looking for advice on how to be sexier after 50, talk about spiritual pastimes and a meaningful purpose in life may be somewhat overwhelming.
I don’t believe that it’s actually necessary for somebody to have an overarching spiritual sense to rekindle their sexual desire, nor do I believe it’s essential to have a purpose in life to be happy: I think life can be lived perfectly well in the absence of deep spiritual fulfillment as long as there are plenty of small but meaningful episodes in everyday life that sustain you spiritually. Indeed, the principle behind all of this website is that great sex within the context of a good life is easily achievable for everyone, at all ages.
But I agree that if you have a spiritual sense, or your life is graced by a sense of spiritual purpose, then it’s possible to reach deeper levels of intimacy and connection with your partner during sex.
On a simple and practical level, it’s worth quoting what one of Sheehy’s interviewees said: “The more a woman enjoys whatever activity she is doing, the more she radiates joy and energy for life. This acts as a beacon that attracts people, including possible life companions.”
It’s quite clear, however, that many people entering midlife feel the need for a change: a change in relationship, perhaps from one that lacks intimacy, companionship and sex to one that will provide more nurturing for the soul; perhaps a seeking out of a spiritually fulfilling occupation or community (or even a hobby or pastime that nurtures one in this way); or a change in the level and frequency of sex and the persons with whom you enjoy it.
A life lived passionately is likely to be a life in which the enjoyment of sex features predominantly. But what if your libido is low, you feel low little or no interest in sex, or, even worse, you feel that the possibility of sex has diminished so much that you’re not even interested whether you ever make love again or not?
Happily, there are some very clear answers to these questions and we’ll be dealing with them in specific detail later on. That includes the issue of low sex drive for women, low sex drive for men, and unequal sex drive within a couple’s relationship.
Gail Sheehy talks of the five phases of a passionate existence in midlife.
Phase 1 The Romantic Renaissance
She describes it as a period in which something or somebody reawakens your senses, both sensual and emotional, and you rediscover the power and excitement of “the romance of the new”.
This is indeed the power and passion that you experienced in your youth with your first young love — a type of personal energy which can serve to remind you that you’re still a sexual woman. (For a long-married couple who are still together and wish to stay that way, the romance of the new can be sparked in unexpected ways, such as the first holiday they have together after the departure of the last child from the family home).
In the context of a personal relationship, or a new dream, or a new spiritual focus, the excitement and romance of the new can propel woman towards a new and passionate life. When you’re in this phase you live completely in the moment, escaping worries about the future and untouched by the emotional consequences of the past.
In terms of romantic and sexual relationships, the romantic renaissance is often a short lived affair, but it can serve to bring you back in touch with the sexual side of your being.
Given the opportunity to seize a chance to reconnect with sexual energy, many people in midlife have taken what another man or woman has to offer, even when they know that the person is not a suitable long-term mate or partner.
Such sex is a wonderful gift from another person and doesn’t provide just fantastic sex — or even just a reawakening of the spirit; it can reawakened the soul to the glories of life. You can part without regrets, holding only fond memories and gratitude for the experience you’ve had. Many women and men who begin dating again in midlife will find a partner who gives them the gift of great sex and new sexual skills, helping them to move on in their search for a new existence.
Phase 2: Learning to be alone with your new self.
For women who’ve spent all of their lives looking after others, or feeling dependent on a husband, partner, job, place or other person, it may be hard to live alone and be content with that.
But it’s essential that a woman knows how to be alone without feeling abandoned before she leaves the structure of her current life to search for something new.
The pain of loss and abandonment can be considerable, as many women who have been divorced and left to fend for themselves by husbands who have searched out younger partners can testify.
But this doesn’t need to happen. By using a series of exercises which help you to shed any inappropriate and outmoded rules and regulations that have governed your life up till now, you can change the beliefs which underpin your philosophy of life.
And by gaining the social skills you may need to acquire to strike out independently in the world, you’ll move beyond projecting desperation into a level of satisfaction with your own company which is likely to give you the opportunity for personal growth as well as widening your imagination about the realm of the future possibilities that lie ahead of you.
Phase 3 : The boldness to dream.
Sheehy quotes Goethe, who wrote: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. / Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” It is simply time to strike out with the dream of passion, whether in a sexual or personal sense.
Phase 4: Soul Seeking
This describes the dramatic change in needs which can occur for somebody in their 50s. Certainly, the shadow of death lies ahead of us — death being the one certainty for all of us — and this means people may change their priorities, they may look towards the light of faith, or they may become more spiritual in some very personal way.
A person who doesn’t go through this fundamental change in philosophy or spirituality is likely to remain unfulfilled or uncertain as they move through life, and may perhaps fear death when it approaches.
One of the best antidote is to the anxiety of later middle age to have a deep and meaningful connection with another person, sometimes from a marriage that began years ago and has grown steadily as times have gone by, and sometimes from a new start in midlife. This can occur when a person knows deep in their souls that what they have is not enough and they need to seek more.
Of course, new connections can be found in all kinds of places: within a reinvigorated marriage or existing relationship, with a lover outside marriage, within a romantic friendship, and even with a same-sex partner. You might relight the fires of passion for an old flame or friend, or begin a new relationship.
Every story is individual and there are potentially as many variations on the theme as there are individuals in the world! Nonetheless, we’re all made of the same genetic and biological material, and fundamentally we all have the same developmental stages….and need for support, love and spiritual fulfillment, whatever that means for you.
Phase 5: Graduating to mature love
Which Sheehy describes as the gold at the end of life. For those who are able to incorporate their passion and their dream with the practical matters of living, there should be greater confidence, fulfilment, and self-acceptance than at any other point in life.
A broader view of life in the short time you have left to live can be a catalyst for the growth of wider love, a form of love that is expressed through giving to community and loving others outside relationship, friends or family; a love shown through your actions — which might include giving creatively, or philosophically, or through some kind of activism for a cause that you espouse. It’s a phase of life in which your goals are realigned and you think about what you will leave behind when you’ve gone.
This is still underpinned by passion, a passion which may spread into love for and with another human being.