All right, lovely readers: The other day, I ran a Q+A with my pal Paula Derrow, editor of the new anthology Behind the Bedroom Door, when we discussed whether or not women can have "sex like men," how much sex the average female is having, and whether or not sex gets better after marriage. Today, Paula and I kibitz about sex with younger men, sex with your bad self — and sex at age 75.
ME: I loved the essay by Elizabeth Cohen, about how she married a guy 16 years younger, when he was 21. Despite the fact that all the guys I date are generally a little — or a lot — younger, I'm convinced that with every year that passes, I get less and less desirable, and the possibility that I will ever find a dude-for-life shrinks exponentially. I think a lot of women think the same way: that after 30 — or 35, or 40 — my chances are over, and sex is over, etc. What did you realize, while working on the book, about women, age, and sex?
PAULA: Good sex is possible way past 25, 35, 45, 55, and even 75. Older women are kind of invisible in our society, but their sexual needs don't go away. They still want it — and they are still doing it!
ME: Okay, I'll buy that — you insist. But even if we're still having sex when we're 40, 50, 75 ... it's gotta be all downhill after a certain age, right? Don't women hit their sexual peaks in their 20s?
PAULA: Sex can actually get better as women get older. Desire and desirability and hotness have so much more to do with confidence and who your partner is and where you are in your life and how you feel about what you're doing than whatever age you happen to be. When they're younger, I think women are less tuned into what THEY want and more into worrying about their partner. The older we get, the more comfortable we feel experiencing and expressing pleasure. And in the book, specifically, the women in their 40s and 50s seem to feel more comfortable with their sexuality — sex becomes much less connected to what we look like on the outside and instead becomes linked to how we feel on the inside. So my perspective is: Youth is overrated. Good sex is all about confidence and self-awareness — which tend to improve as we age.
ME: Lauren Slater said that six months into a romance, she starts to lose interest in having sex, and after that, she's about as into it as she is into playing checkers. Do you think there are a lot of women out there like she is? And if so, do you think a lot of them are taking antidepressants, like she is, which are known to be a sex-drive killer?
PAULA: I think a lot of women will relate to Lauren's story, especially if they are in a phase of their life with very young kids, trying to balance work, marriage, and motherhood — never mind sex. And you're right: Antidepressants can dampen down sex drive. It's a good thing for women to be aware of, because there are things you can do to keep your sex life alive when you're taking antidepressants. If you DO happen to be more interested in having sex than playing checkers, there's no reason to tolerate a subpar sex drive. You should see your doc and get your prescription tweaked.
ME: Masturbation: good for the soul?
PAULA: Yes! Not to mention for the nether regions and for a good night's sleep! It's a great way to get through dry spells!
ME: In one essay, a woman's marriage to her husband breaks up, and then she has an affair with a woman — which completely devastates her. I've heard a lot of straight single chicks sigh and say, "It'd be so much easier if I was just lesbian." But, like, duh. As the essay shows, that's so not true. Lesbians are complicated humans who can hurt their lovers as much as straight men can.
PAULA: Yes. Once we get sexually, emotionally, and romantically involved with someone, the same complications arise — the same hurts, vulnerabilities, traps, and pleasures, whether the partner is male or female.
ME: Do you have any sex or dating advice for me, and for Marie Claire's readers?
PAULA: Be who you are, do what you love, pursue your passions — and great sex will follow.