As taboos go, I realise it’s a huge one. And yet, I think we need to break it. So, allow me to go first: I am 58 years old and I do not want to have sex again.
Not once a month, or on a wedding anniversary, or to celebrate a birthday. Not on holiday or after a few drinks or with a hot, new man. No. I don’t want to do it ever again.
And I’m certain I’m not alone. Indeed, I think there are millions of older women out there just like me, women who are quite done with frolicking around with other people’s wobbly bits and who go through the motions purely for the sake of keeping a husband or long-term partner happy, or because it is expected of us in a new relationship.
But perhaps — radical thought — it’s time to consider our happiness, too. For how many women, in their 50s and finally free of a woman’s biological cycles and functions, are really still gripped by the lust that once led us so enthusiastically to bed?
How many post-menopausal women are getting dressed up or trussed up — or having the most vanilla of sex, for that matter — not out of a sense of duty or to stop him seeking it elsewhere or even in exchange for companionship, but because they truly desire it?
‘As taboos go, I realise it’s a huge one. And yet, I think we need to break it. So, allow me to go first: I am 58 years old and I do not want to have sex again,’ writes Monica Zwolsman (pictured)
In a world of so-called sex positivity, where women’s sexual needs are regarded as equal to men’s, suggesting this is, of course, heresy.
It will be met with simple disbelief. The possibility that our libido dies once we’ve lost the ability to bear children, because that is what nature intended, is simply dismissed as misogyny.
And yet, to co-opt the language of millennials, I am only recounting my ‘lived experience’ here.
I now shudder at the thought of sex, the ickiness of it, the silliness of it, the mutual embarrassment if you’re new to each other, the boring repetition if you’re not.
Am I really alone? It is very hard to tell because this taboo is upheld by a conspiracy of silence. No one talks about it.
Yes, some women may laughingly say that they’re glad they don’t have to have sex as often as they used to, but admitting you never want sex is another matter.
In truth, I have never been madly sexual, and even as an older teenager only pretended to sexually desire the so-called ‘hot’ celebrities of the day — men like Robert Redford, David Cassidy and Mark Hamill.
In my early 20s, Johnny Depp and Rob Lowe failed to stir a tingly feeling, and I was always mystified when women talked about being ‘horny’. To be honest, even just typing that ugly word makes me feel uncomfortable.
I married three times, which was almost everyone I’ve slept with, bar a couple of uncomfortable one-night stands post-divorce.
It sounds desperately conservative now, but I simply never saw the point of sharing bodies without something in return, whether children or marriage. (I’ve had three children with two of my husbands.)
Don’t get me wrong — I have enjoyed sex. When I was loved, and in love, it was good and passionate and I felt fulfilled by it.
‘I think there are millions of older women out there just like me, women who are quite done with frolicking around with other people’s wobbly bits and who go through the motions purely for the sake of keeping a husband or long-term partner happy, or because it is expected of us in a new relationship’
Perhaps I was what today’s young people call ‘demisexual’, where you can only form a sexual bond with, or feel sexual attraction to, a person with whom you share a deep emotional connection. I think it’s as good a description as any of how many women feel about sex.
But now I am single again and even the ‘demi’ part of my sexuality has frankly disappeared. I am repelled by the idea of having to recouple. Love I could do, but the actual poke and thrust? I will not.
Of course, when women do admit to a lack of interest in this activity that apparently keeps the world turning, the world tells us we are wrong.
Our dislike of sex is seen as a problem to be solved. A woman my age who doesn’t want sex must surely have something wrong with her body. Take these hormones! Talk to a therapist! Visit a gynaecologist to cure dryness and atrophy and other grim-sounding supposed problems that I don’t want or need to cure.
The presumption underlying all those strictures and diktats is that all natural, healthy women want sex, no matter their age. No one listens when I say: I. Don’t. Want. It.
Or they listen and then tell me my life must be dull and empty. I must be anxious or uptight. But I am not stressed — I am happy. I have lots of time. I am in perfect health.
Call me frigid — I nod and accept that this cap fits — but it is still a horrible, loaded term, implying coldness, sternness and even cruelty. And I am not those things.
Recently, after one man who I was happy to call a beloved friend ruined our relationship by suggesting it become a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement, I posted a call-out on a public Facebook forum to other women, prepared to bust this toughest of taboos. The truth was I felt saddened, even violated, by his suggestion and I wanted to know if I was over-reacting.
My howl of indignation was greeted with a tsunami of sympathetic replies from women of my age who felt just as I did. Some cursed the day Viagra was invented and others felt genuine anguish at the prospect of physical intimacy.
Those who were single were relieved to be exempt from the whole messy business, even if it meant forsaking male companionship and affection. Still others lamented the fact that online dating sites for women of my age seem more like recruiting adverts for free domestic help, nursing care and financial assistance. And then they expect us to have sex with them, too.
‘I now shudder at the thought of sex, the ickiness of it, the silliness of it, the mutual embarrassment if you’re new to each other, the boring repetition if you’re not. Am I really alone? It is very hard to tell because this taboo is upheld by a conspiracy of silence. No one talks about it’
I’ll admit the response was not all positive. Some — both women and men — turned on me, as if I had personally offended them.
Their meanness was a revelation: why does a woman saying this attract such venom? ‘You just haven’t had good sex’ said many, and ‘You must be fat and ugly’ added others.
‘You must be a lesbo’ said one super-sophisticated correspondent. There were other, nastier, replies. Some questioned the manliness of my former husbands. I have been widowed twice and divorced once, and two of those husbands I loved deeply.
Sharing our bodies was a hugely satisfying addition to the bonding of our minds.
But for me, while the actual act was very pleasant, nothing was as good as lying together afterwards, cuddling and chatting into the night.
Hand-holding and hugs are my so-called love language, and romance would consist of sitting on the couch or lying on the bed together with our limbs entangled while we read or watched TV or simply talked.
I have always felt like this — it had, and has, nothing to do with the men concerned.
My third husband was different. A decade younger than me, and a typically tall, blond Dutchman with a beautifully toned body, he was widely thought to be a handsome and sexy man.
I came with baggage though. My first husband was my first love, a photographer shot dead in the crossfire of a township war in South Africa.
The second husband was a true soulmate, but died from a heart attack — and then I had to survive the tragic death of our child Benjamin.
He was two when he had an operation to fix a hernia and died in his sleep after a bad reaction to medication.
Soon after, I met and married the Dutchman, and within two years I had two sons — and after that I had absolutely no interest in my wifely duties.
He might have been super-hot, but for me there was no real emotional connection, and this for me destroyed the sex appeal others clearly thought he possessed.
The minute I had both my children, and he refused to have a third, I was not even up for pretending any more. Unsurprisingly, I ended up a single mum at 40.
‘How many post-menopausal women are getting dressed up or trussed up — or having the most vanilla of sex, for that matter — not out of a sense of duty or to stop him seeking it elsewhere or even in exchange for companionship, but because they truly desire it?’
The truth is, I am tired of people being so offended by my opinion.
I am sorry if it makes people uncomfortable and runs counter to the narrative they want to hear, ie. that we’re all still happily swinging from the chandeliers. But I will not apologise for the way I feel, and I won’t slink off in silence, either. Women deserve to know that it’s perfectly OK not to feel ‘up for it’ in later life.
Of course, there are older women who enjoy a resurgence of libido, too.
At least, that’s what they tell me — I know a few. In one case, she says she’s having the best sex of her life, albeit with the help of HRT and lubricants, and congratulations to her.
I must take their word for it that they have not mistaken their love of being loved for a desire for sex.
And I would ask them to believe me when I tell them the thought of sex now, at this stage of my life, deeply repulses me. I can imagine the falling in love part, but passion? My skin breaks out in a sweat just thinking about it.
Pride demands that I refute the insults flung at me on the subject of my appearance. No, I am not ‘fat and ugly’ and therefore jealous of other women’s sex lives.
I am not out of shape for ‘a woman of my age’. In fact, while my face bears some of the signs of a long life, I still really like my body. I am often asked out on dates.
On the simplest level, I love jumping into my clean bed with ironed sheets that smell of lavender, stretching out like a starfish and revelling in my self-made sanctuary.
I don’t miss the pressure of getting into bed, tired and ready to sleep, and having a hopeful face alongside me, or being woken up in the morning by someone eager for more than a cuddle. I feel no nostalgia for it at all.
Yes, I do sometimes miss hugging someone and burrowing into their chest. I used to love that skin-to-skin contact.
Most of all, I would like to have someone of my very own as an anchor in life. But if that means losing my intimate privacy, then, well, it’s too big a condition for me to meet.
I have a dog for companionship and unconditional love. I have sons, sisters and brothers for family.
And when I get older, I plan to live in a commune with all my friends where we will care for each other in old age, share company and enjoy our retirement years with adventures and good times.
But no sex, thank you. I feel genuine relief that this part of my life is done.