Many years ago, back in the days when the British still thought that sex was all very well for foreigners and natural history documentaries but it would never catch on here, my dear old dad confessed to me that he had been celibate for 13 years. It was not, he added, a matter of choice on his part.
I’m pleased to report that he did in the end solve the problem, though only after he became so desperate that he was obliged to return to my mother after many decades of separation.
In one of those findings that come under the heading of ‘stating the bleedin’ obvious’, the Society has concluded that regular sex is good for one’s happiness
But I was reminded of the old man’s travails when perusing the results of a study by The Gerontological Society of America (and may I say, in passing, that you know you’re getting older when the proceedings of that august body become a matter of personal interest).
In one of those findings that come under the heading of ‘stating the bleedin’ obvious’, the Society has concluded that regular sex is good for one’s happiness. Apparently, 60 per cent of survey respondents with an active love life reported themselves to be ‘very happy’ as opposed to 40 per cent who did not. The fact that an old misery-guts like me considers both groups to be wildly, unrealistically optimistic is neither here nor there.
Among married men and women, the effect of conjugal bliss was even more marked, with 80 per cent of over-65s who were (a) married and (b) at it, reporting extreme happiness. And rampant smugness, too, I dare say.
The point is, sex never stops being good for both one’s body and soul. Perhaps that explains why there has been such an outpouring of sexual advice for mature love-makers in recent months, even if it has been received with a distinct lack of gratitude, or even interest.
In October, ITV’s This Morning “shocked angry viewers” (according to one perennially outraged newspaper) by running an item on sex toys and positions for the over-60s – positions which were then demonstrated by “an elderly couple dressed in pyjamas on a bed”. Mon dieu, quelle horreur!
Meanwhile, Portsmouth City Council was forced to cancel a sex advice workshop for seniors due to lack of interest. I think we can all agree that the lack of interest was not in sex itself, but in being told how to do it by some bossy little madam half one’s age.
Still, there does seem to be a strong, zeitgeisty sense of bonking bloomers in the air. I believe that one of our most respected newspapers is even planning a feature on sex tips for the over-50s.
I was wondering what tips I would pass on, were I asked, and a few came to mind. But on reading news of this latest survey, I realised there is only one piece of advice that really matters and it can be found in the old Nike slogan: just do it.
Goodness knows, my old man was not the first or last swordsman to find his weapon had been sheathed for longer than he might have wished. The world is equally filled with ladies missing the comforting grasp of a big, strong man. And not all of them are living alone. It is, after all, very easy indeed to slip from the relationship of man and wife into something more akin to brother and sister, or even squabbling flatmates.
There can be very few long-term relationships that have not gone through some kind of physical hiatus. We all fall prey to the arrival of children, overwork, the waning of physical attraction or simply getting out of the habit. And when that happens, it is all too easy to say nothing and act as if everything is perfectly normal (which it is, in a way, since there are plenty of other people in exactly the same situation).
Gradually the possibility of sex seems to fade away, and with it one’s confidence and even one’s appetite. The conventional image of someone who is sex-starved is that they are desperate with unfulfilled lust. In fact, they are much more likely to have become sexless and devoid of desire.
Yet even the coldest ashes of physical passion can be rekindled if the will is there. And once relit, the fire can soon be crackling away quite merrily, giving out just as much warmth and light as it did before. The survey is right: married people with fulfilling sex lives can be indecently happy. So if you’ve given up on love, or reconciled yourself to celibacy, here’s my advice: think again.
And just do it.