A few months ago, during my annual well woman visit, my gynecologist asked me if I was sexually active. I told her I was, and yes, I wanted a routine STD check. And then she informed me that I wouldn't have to worry about those for too much longer because, "women stop having sex around 65."
I blinked. I couldn't quite take in what she said.
"Sixty-five?" I repeated. The words "that's only 13 more years!" flashed in my head like a strobe light.
"Sixty-five or 70 is usually when women stop having sex," she nodded with assurance.
"But what if I don't want to stop having sex when I'm 65?" I asked.
She stared at me for a moment, as if this was the first time any patient had said such a thing. My gynecologist is around 70 herself, and seems to have an older clientele. I thought about the women who had sat stony-faced and slump-shouldered in the waiting room with me. They all seemed old. I don't mean numbers old; I mean not-with-a-bang-but-with-a-whimper old. The collective tacit sighs in that room had been deafening.
Perhaps one reason the life force appeared to have drained from their bodies was that they'd stopped having sex?
When I read articles that are targeted towards boomer women, or when I see images of midlife ladies in the media, I can't wrap my mind around the fact that I'm "that old." I don't mind being fifty-two. I mind being bombarded with messages that menopause is going to make me her bitch, that it's time to trade in my thongs for Depends, and that I'm more likely to hold hands with my man in tandem hammocks than fornicate in every room in the house.
In fairness, I am in good health -- knock on wood -- and I don't struggle with weight issues. While perimenopause hasn't exactly been a Sunday stroll through the park, it hasn't been a nightmare either, and it clearly hasn't diminished my sex drive. If I had more of the midlife afflictions the media says I should have, I suppose I might feel more "my age."
But I wonder: do midlifers lose interest in sex because they feel old and tired? Or do they lose interest in sex because the culture tells them they're too old to need it, want it, enjoy it?
When I was miserably married, and my sex life was as parched as the Sahara, I felt old. It wasn't just that my knees ached and my neck spasmed and I grew weary climbing stairs. I felt old because I thought old. It seemed that my best years were behind me and fulfillment was for other people. The best I could hope for, I told myself, was that my health would hold out until my kids were launched. Gripped by this psychic death rattle, I felt too depleted to have sex, or to care that I wasn't having sex.
Obviously, that's changed.
It's not that my life is any easier. I'm a single mother with a bad divorce settlement and I'll be working till I drop. So in some ways my life is harder. But it's also more vibrant.
I remember reading something as my marriage was winding down. I don't recall who wrote it, but it was about living life like a warrior. The gyst was that warriors don't have time to over-think things; they'll be killed if they do. So they have to make the best choice they can in the moment. And they have to live as if every moment is their last.
I've thought about this analogy a lot lately. I can't say that I always seize the day like a warrior, but I try not to think too far in the future. I am not a remotely New Age-y person, but I do believe that mindfulness can turn anxiety from a crippling force into a positive change agent.
So, when my doctor told me I'd be done with having sex in 13 years, I decided to ignore her and her waiting room full of middle-aged women slouching towards their graves. I decided not to think about what life circumstances might befall me so that I would be through with sex at 65.
And I decided to count the blessings I have today. Good health. An enthusiastic libido. A sharp mind. Character formed by hard knocks and mandatory scrappiness. And when I think about all those things I have, I feel alive, expansive...and sexy.
Photography by Nick Holmes