Diane Keaton says she is sexually frustrated and wants a man. She’s not the only one
It’s not seemly. It’s not dignified. And who gives a damn? Three cheers to Diane Keaton for coming out as “sexually frustrated’’ at 70. Her past lovers have included Warren Beatty, Woody Allen and Al Pacino, but now, in conversation on US TV with Ellen DeGeneres, she has admitted that she’s single and on the lookout for a lover.
With this brave admission, Keaton has given voice to legions of older women — divorced, widowed, married — who feel romantically and sexually sidelined.
Her outburst, let’s be honest, may have the majority of the population clamping their ears in disgust. Oldie sex is not a subject the young warm to. But we women of a certain age can identify with her stymied sexual stirrings. “I am sexually frustrated,’’ she declared. “Do you know what that feels like? I know what it feels like and it’s not good.’’
It’s not that we never hear about the thwarted passions of oldies. A few years ago, a former American high school teacher named Jane Juska became something of a phenomenon with her account of placing a lonely hearts ad. “Before I turn 67 — next March — I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like,” it read. “If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.” What followed became the subject of a bestseller.
Then there was the huge success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a film about a whole raft of love-hungry and lustful oldies. Yet Keaton is perhaps the first celebrity to declare her real-life thwarted passions to the public.
It was Deborah Moggach, on whose novel Exotic Marigold was based, who said that books and films that speak to older people “don’t have to be all about dementia and stuff; they could just be about the fact you make the same old mistakes as you did when you were younger. You fall in love, you’re jealous; same joy, same everything . . . you’re just a bit more wrinkly.’’
Well, exactly the same applies to real life.
A former colleague of mine, 71, who was widowed five years ago after a 40-year marriage, was introduced to a man of a similar age at a friend’s party last New Year’s Eve and has declared herself in love. But because she thinks people are appalled at the idea of sexed-up oldies she behaves with caution.
“I’m worried about embarrassing not just my children but the grandkids as well,’’ she told me. “My new beau has met them all but I have to keep reminding him that public displays of affection aren’t appropriate. When we’re alone we act like teenagers. I can barely believe that I’ve found passion at my age.’’
After an unwanted separation from my husband nine years ago, I wasn’t feeling so much sexually frustrated as sexually numb, and wondered more than a little wistfully if that part of my life was over for ever. But after meeting my new partner, and rediscovering my sexual mojo, I can honestly say that eight years on and at the age of 64, my sexual energy is as high as it has ever been. It’s not impossible to imagine some semblance of a sex life even 20 years from now, on the assumption that I live that long.
After all, even those of us who enjoy free bus passes and no longer pay for our prescriptions aren’t seeking pastures new just in order to have a reliable bridge partner. The pleasure and adventure of meeting someone new later in life inevitably spills over into sex. And surely that’s not something to be ashamed of.
Perhaps older people’s interest in sex shouldn’t be seen as surprising either given research suggesting that while 65 has traditionally been seen as the watershed moment when old age begins, in 2016 it doesn’t kick in until about 74.
Academics from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, Austria, argue that old age should be measured not by age, but by how long people have left to live. They say that old age should be defined as having 15 or fewer years to go, which for baby boomers means that they are still middle-aged until their 74th year. In the 1950s a 65-year-old in Britain couldn’t expect to live beyond 80, whereas a healthy 74-year-old today can expect to live until 89.
Older women today are fitter, more fashionable and younger looking (with or without the help of tweaks and surgery) than ever. When you look good, you feel it, and that certainly can have a knock-on effect on your sex life. If you are still vibrant out of bed, you’re likely to feel electric beneath the duvet as well, especially once the kids are off your hands.
The jury is out on whether HRT has positive effects on libido, though it can certainly reduce some of the desire-dampening physical effects of the menopause. However, there are cases of women whose libido actually increases post-menopause even without HRT. In that respect I count myself in the fortunate minority as I have not had HRT myself.
While I know plenty of women in their sixties, seventies and beyond who have put sex behind them, either with a degree of sadness because sex with their partners has withered away, or as single women who feel they can no longer attract a lover, and don’t have the courage to brave the world of internet dating, I know equal numbers for whom sex remains a powerful and important element of their lives.
As one friend told me recently: “What with my arthritic hip and his bad back things are a little more tricky to organise, but sex is still our way of connecting emotionally as well as physically. So he needs Viagra, so what? And I’ve discovered a lubricant that works wonders.”
Another pal, a divorcee aged 68, has just met someone on Tinder. She wants a relationship, but definitely one with sexual benefits.
Desire is a complex business — it is generally accepted that it usually, although not always, wanes in men and women as we age. But given that desire is made up of various components, from the biological (including fantasies and erotic attraction to others) to the cultural (attitudes shaped by religion, your family, the media) it’s unhelpful to label everyone over a particular age as sexually past it.
Motivation is important too. The increase in late life divorce, and the surge of 60 and 70 somethings seeking new partners, proves much to us about how desire that diminishes with the familiarity of a long-term relationship can be rekindled in later life with someone new.
The sexual frustration to which Keaton refers reflects a lust for life as much as for flesh. Her desire for sex is a manifestation of her undiminished vitality, the libido that Freud described as psychic as well as sexual energy.
To stay shtum about older sex just because the very idea of sex involving less than perky flesh makes people uncomfortable strikes me as a pretty poor rationale. Even the Family Planning Association has been moved to declare that older people’s sexuality is often ignored, neglected and stigmatised, and should instead be accepted and viewed positively.
Now that she has declared herself I’m sure there will be plenty of white knights eager to cure Keaton of her sexual frustration. If her comments encourage the rest of us oldies to be unashamed of our sexuality, she will have done us all a favour.
Women of this age have high expectations
For the emotionally mature male, it is rewarding to have sex with someone your own age. But such a man is an endangered species.
A lot of men in their seventies are used to traditional roles; they expect women to be submissive, and women have transcended that. Certain men of this age don’t react well to sexually assertive women. So if you are as accomplished as Diane Keaton, imagine how many men are afraid of you. Meanwhile, Keaton and women like her just want to have a good lay!
However, women of a certain age group are often competing against younger women, some of whom want what older men can give them. Often, a man wants to be with someone who is as old as he feels on the inside. And, no matter how old the exterior, on the inside we feel like 32. For ageing men, although the erection becomes less hard and less sustainable, and ejaculation is more difficult, drugs such as Viagra mean that they can still show off their virility.
Men at 70 also have a much larger pool to choose from than women. When men divorce, they’re always invited to a thousand dinner parties, whereas newly single women are often seen as predators by other women. Talking of divorce, in this age group, even with those who are married, there’s not a lot of nookie going on.
If women of 70 get sex, it’s often of a very inferior quality. There’s a reason why the Rampant Rabbit was a bestseller. Men have, in general, very little idea of what to do with their apparatus. Women are understandably wary of men who essentially use them as an elaborate masturbatory tool. And if casual sex is a mediocre experience, they’re likely to abstain the next time. But just because we don’t engage in the physical act, that doesn’t mean we don’t fantasise.
That said, women of this age group do have high expectations — they want an emotionally intelligent alpha male who’s successful, well endowed and washes the dishes. When you are the person being penetrated, sex is more likely to be about intimacy as much as rumpy-pumpy for its own sake. On the whole, women don’t want sex to be meaningless. They are also hesitant, because by the time we reach 70, we’ve accumulated various hang-ups; we’re often insecure about our bodies and there are few of us who remain unscarred by life.
And yet, we absolutely underestimate women of this age. Many of them have suffered a dry spell, but that doesn’t mean their lust factor has diminished. The death of the libido following the menopause has been greatly exaggerated. The fact is, we should be able to have sex at any advanced age.
It’s not that desire dies, it’s that women cut off from it because of their mediocre sexual experiences. And it still appears difficult for a man in his seventies to believe that a woman of that age can regard sex in the same lustful way that men do. Even if it is 3 per cent of her personality, they find a woman showing her sexually predatory nature difficult to accept. Although it can increase the insecurity factor, women such as Joan Collins have solved this problem by going out with a younger man. Why not? Have fun!
Family therapist Jean-Claude Chalmet was talking to Anna Maxted