When it comes to sex, Sharon Stone, 65, has never been a shrinking violet. Perhaps the most notorious on-screen femme fatale of the modern age as a result of her role in Basic Instinct, last week she pronounced: “I’m hotter now than I’ve ever been.” And added: “I have just as many people who want to sleep with me now as I ever did.”
Obviously, the stunning actress is an entirely different species from the majority of women. She is still blessed with a face and a body and a magnetism most of us couldn’t even dream of. But, speaking to the Ladygang podcast, her explanation for being hotter than ever went further than the fact that she’s more experienced and therefore better in bed, but that her being “hot” links to her being “a better friend, better to hang out with, more interested and more relaxed”.
“Now when I see people I’m attracted to,” Stone, currently single, commented, “I think if I’d like to go to the movies and hold hands with them … not just would I want to have sex with them?” In other words, by putting sex within the context of a whole relationship, she was effectively saying that sex is a bit different from how it used to be for her, but it’s still important and still part of who she is.
Stone, out and proud about the changing nature of her sexuality in her sixties, while bringing the topic into the public sphere, should be applauded for helping to smash a taboo around the topic of “oldie sex” that is still very much part of our culture.
I recall the grimaces that friends and some family displayed when, as a freelance journalist in my mid-fifties, I first wrote about sex in later life after discovering a new-found enthusiasm for it. This was after my long-term relationship with my husband had come to an end and I had met my current partner. As a former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine I carried no embarrassment around the topic, though others clearly thought that what was fine for the non-wrinkly, non-saggy young to speak out about was not at all appropriate for parents and, heaven forfend, grandparents to be discussing, let alone actually doing! My revelations, not remotely graphic, were met with squirmy embarrassment and distaste.
Frankly, along with my marriage I had thought my sex life was pretty much over. I couldn’t even imagine taking my clothes off, let alone making love to anyone. It was all terrifying. But after a slow-burn courtship, and not a hint of pressure to take things beyond the affectionate/platonic, one summer’s day after a long walk and pub lunch in the country, about three months after meeting, I suddenly knew the time was right. And soon I realised that those sexual feelings had been dormant, not dead. That everything worked just the way it used to. That bodies don’t have to be taut and toned to receive and give pleasure. And that sex really can be better than you ever remember at this time of life.
What I have learnt, in the last fifteen years, and as I have reached the grand old age of 71, is that sexual intimacy – if both partners are willing and able – is something that can last across much of the lifespan. It may evolve into something that happens less often, and with less fireworks, but it still has the possibility of being both thrilling and surprising and making you feel young and vital in a way that’s unique to sexual intimacy.
Sex is a thorny topic and I realise that in talking about it in relation to older people, and celebrating the possibilities and pleasures of sex in later life, there is a danger of encouraging a new orthodoxy, one that makes us all feel that if we’re not horny as well as old, we are somehow lacking. That’s not the aim at all. If anyone feels that the sexual part of their lives is something they’re happy to let go of, that’s their prerogative. There are no shoulds or oughts about it.
But what I’ve discovered through being open about the topic is that people are willing to be open in discussing it with me in ways they might not have done before. “It’s not something I usually talk about with my friends, especially the married ones,” is something I’ve heard time and time again.
And, while some people might be coming into their own in their sixties – and beyond – what I’ve also found is that there’s a lot of sadness and even shame around the topic for older people whose sex lives have dwindled to zero or deteriorated to frosty accusations about frigidity and lack of interest. So many couples are simply not communicating with one another on the topic, burying that part of themselves while acknowledging that it still wants to break free.
“We can’t even begin to discuss it,” one friend, four decades married, told me recently. “He stopped being able to maintain erections, he can’t take Viagra for medical reasons, and so he withdrew completely. It’s reached the point,” she confessed sadly, “where we don’t even say goodnight. We get into bed, switch the light off and our Kindles on, ear-plugs in so we don’t disturb one another, and that’s it til morning when we reach for our phones. I can hardly believe it but I’m starting to have sexual fantasies about certain young movie stars. I’m 67, what’s wrong with me?”
Recognition of older sex being a subject worth talking about is slowly growing. Age UK, perhaps not the kind of organisation you expect to be handing out sex tips, gives advice on everything from STIs to vaginal dryness. The wonderfully lively and informative Sex Advice For Seniors podcast, hosted by Suzanne Noble and sexologist Zoe Kors, is full of ideas for how to pep things up in the bedroom from “talkin’ dirty” to “misaligned sex drives in later life” and “toys for the boys”.
For a generation who grew up in the febrile, sexually liberated Sixties and Seventies, the joys of sex are not easily let go of.
Another friend, Jeanette, who is also a psychotherapist, and met her current partner eight years ago when she was 61, told me that, for her, “Being wanted by someone you care about is the greatest aphrodisiac. For me, sexual intimacy is an expression of the deepest communication and connection there can be between two human beings who trust one another. To surrender to another person is to know the sweetest and most life-affirming pleasure and it has little to do with age.”
Jeanette went on to say that while that initial, frenzied sexual attraction has a shelf-life, there is no reason for intimacy not to last 40, 50 or more years.
This was borne out by a moving story I was told by a man who has recently celebrated 45 years of marriage.
“When my wife had a mastectomy, she couldn’t face the idea of a reconstruction as well,” he confided, “and she was anxious that it would put me off her. She had always been proud of her still upright breasts and we had always managed to maintain an interest in sex. Even as I reassured her, I did worry that it might be a turn off.”
He went on to say that he knew he needed to make her feel beautiful again and he took the risk of going about it, not by asking her to cover up, but to expose herself to him fully. “A year after treatment has finished,” he told me happily, “our sex life is back to where it was and our appreciation of this life we’ve had together is even greater.”
It’s stories like these which make me realise we need to talk more, not less, about sex and desire and intimacy in later life. And if it takes a celebrity to re-open the debate about our most basic of instincts, then I can’t think of a more appropriate one than Sharon Stone.