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Sex after sixty – France's leading psychologist on love in later life

Sex after sixty – France's leading psychologist on love in later life
The 70-year-old psychologist, Marie de Hennezel, is an expert on aging. Her latest book, Sex After Sixty, addresses the taboo subject. She tells us why it’s time to open the curtain and let the senior sexual revolution begin.
Respected pyschotherapist Marie de Hennezel is herself a septuagenarian and she explores the mystery of emotional intimacy and physical love in later life.
The title of her latest relationship study, Sex After Sixty: A French Guide to Loving Intimacy, gives a clear indication of what to expect. But her subject is not only for a French audience. It addresses the universal subject of sexuality, in particular the sexuality of seniors.
Through interviews, case studies and her own analysis, she probes the depths of this taboo subject, and shares her insights into the changing nature of sexuality as we grow older.

Marie de Hennezel, imagie via popscreen.com

FG: Is there an age limit to love, sex and desire?

MdeH: As the heart does not age, there is no age limit to enjoying love.
There are mature forms of love which are far from platonic. We can experience desire well into old age, but this desire may not always materalise. It’s important to find the right partner.
The limitations are different. There could be a drop in libido; the ageing of the body and sexual organs might be an obstacle. One can have a poor self-image, feel less desirable. Quite simply, loneliness can also be an obstacle.

Does sex get better with age?

Of course, making love at the age of 70 is not the same as at 30.
If we accept that sexuality evolves with age, that it becomes different, slower, more sensual, less performance-oriented, and then we can explore another kind of sexuality. Women especially say that as they grow older, they discover a more fulfilling kind of pleasure, because older women are thought to give themselves more intensely, and to offer their bodies and souls more fully.
With age, sex is better, lasts longer and is more erotic. There’s a new sense of freedom because you have nothing more to prove to each other. Perhaps this is what maturity brings: having no expectations, no goals, and surrendering yourself with delight. You’re not objectifying your bodies any more, you’re sensing them. You look into each other’s eyes, but you’re not assessing each other any more.

Why is the sexuality of seniors such a taboo subject?

Sexuality is synonymous with youth.
Feeling less desirable, or experiencing issues caused by the ageing of their sexual organs, many people decide to draw a line under their sex life. Sex is for young people. Sexuality in an elderly person goes against the grain – it’s seen as ridiculous and inappropriate.

Do we need to talk more about sex amongst the elderly to make it less taboo?

Yes, absolutely.
Above all, we need to spread the following message: if you have always loved love, if you have always had a loving nature, there is no reason to give up on your love life, or your sex life. You must simply understand that it’s no longer about trying to recreate what you had when you were younger.
We have to be ready to explore something new. This requires a brand-new approach to sex: less focus on genitalia and more on sensuality and intimacy.
Sex After Sixty

Why is the subject of interest to you?

Because I am 70 and I want to help people of my generation to age well.
I want to make people look at the future of their sexual intimacy in a different way. I’m surrounded by men and women who believe their love lives to be over, either because they’re alone or because they’re scared of no longer being able to perform.
Continuing to have a sex life allows us to grow old in good health and to remain young in heart and soul. I just want to show my generation that sexuality is still possible, if we change the ways in which we practice it.

You’re pleading for a new sexual revolution. What do you mean by this?

Woody Allen once said that he no longer look at himself in the mirror because it was depressing. He looked inside himself, because inside he was still young.
We must stop looking at ourselves, comparing our bodies to those that we had at a younger age. We must dare to be intimate with our partners, to engage in sensual and erotic contact without seeking any particular outcome (an orgasm, for example). This is a different way of making love: slower, more tender, more sensual. It’s all about finding togetherness through physical contact.
The senior sexual revolution is about daring to have intimacy in both body and soul (looking each other in the eyes, talking with one another) without seeking to recapture the sensations and experiences we had when we were younger.

Making love at 30 is a different sensual experience compared to making love at 70, right?

Young people are able to have sex mechanically and without love. Sexuality is more compulsive. At 70, sexuality it’s less so – slower and more tender. A feeling of love or at least an emotional complicity is necessary.

Is it important for sex to continue in older age? Many couples find intimacy without sex

Precisely—tenderness and physical contact are a manifestation of sexuality. Why should the sexual act be limited to coitus?

image via sixtyandme.com

Your book is primarily for 60-somethings

Between the ages of 60 and 75, baby boomers are still lively, full of energy and in good health if they take care of themselves. Maintaining an active love/sex life contributes to this physical and psychological good health. After 75, it’s possible to continue living a loving and sexual life, but on condition of cultivating intimacy and tenderness as a couple.

What is the key to ageing well?

Marie de Hennezel is an esteemed psychologist and psychotherapist and adviser to the French ministry of health on palliative care. She has written ten books about growing older, including The Warmth of Your Heart Prevents Your Body from Rusting which became a Sunday Times bestseller.
Sex After Sixty by Marie de Hennezel, published by Scribe
Sex After Sixty: A French Guide to Loving Intimacy is published by Scribe
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