Reality of sex at middle-age: Barbara Scully and Billy Keane reflect on whether it's pure fantasy
As TV's latest Sunday night drama explores a saucy middle-age fling, Barbara Scully and Billy Keane reflect on whether it's pure fantasy
I had the unusual pleasure of watching two dramas over the weekend in which the main protagonists were not only female but those even rarer birds (pardon the pun), middle- aged females and most remarkably of all, they were having sex. Right there on the TV.
The dramas I am referring to are Apple Tree Yard, which began on BBC1 on Sunday night, and the conclusion of Delicious which aired on Sky 1 last Friday. Both dramas featured women in their fifties in the lead roles, the former being played by Emily Watson and the brilliant Dawn French in the latter.
It is interesting that rather than celebrate these women-centric dramas for being just that, what seems more remarkable is the fact that these middle-aged women were having sex. And they seemed to like it. Imagine that.
Now I will admit, that as a middle-aged woman (well, if I live beyond 100 that is) sex has slipped down the agenda a wee bit since I was in my 20s or 30s but that is most likely because being married for two decades, I assume that I can have sex whenever I want it (more or less). Although I wouldn't relish going back to my twenties when I was conscious of all the sex I wasn't having, I am aware that nowadays sex can drop off the radar for too long or it can become too routine and in need of some resuscitation.
How to recapture some of the excitement of earlier years is something I have discussed with my other 'middle-aged' female friends. One girlfriend told me she and her husband use 'sexting' to good effect. Great idea, I thought. So, one night, myself and himself were in our usual position on the sofa watching TV when I thought I would give this 'sexting' a go.
I composed a suitably smutty text which I thought would get him going and pressed send. As his phone pinged with a message I smiled to myself at how delighted, surprised and excited he would be at this turn of events. He grunted at being disturbed at such a late hour and squinted at his phone as he held it at arm's length before thrusting it at me saying: "I don't have my reading glasses and can't see who this is from or what they are saying. Can you read it for me?" Not quite the result I was looking for.
In Daniel Bergner's headline-making book What Do Women Want?, he put forward the notion that women have been conditioned over centuries to be monogamous but that in reality we are far more promiscuous than men. There were experiments to back up this theory. It disturbed me greatly to think that perhaps there is a whole smorgasbord of sexual delight I should be sampling - instead of which I am in my local café having 'my usual'.
So part of me envied Emily Watson's character in Apple Tree Yard having hot urgent sex with a stranger she had met only minutes before hand. But then I think, she is in a public toilet or up an alleyway or in a broom cupboard and I think, "nah". Then I see her Googling STD clinics and I think, "double nah".
I have found being a fiftysomething woman is reasonably glorious. Although I can see myself ageing, I think I am wise enough to know what's important and what's not. Sex is important, but on my terms. And for me, pedestrian and all as it is, that means with my fella, somewhere clean and comfortable.
So it seems no one knew middle-aged people had sex until Emily Watson lost the run of herself and had an affair on the BBC. The shocking part, for some, was the character Emily plays is fiftyish and is still gagging for it, on screen.
Apple Tree Yard is excellent and Emily has struck a blow for the loveliness of the older woman. Did you think that the middle-aged get a P45 letter from their libido?
"Dear Middle Aged Man,
Your years of service are greatly appreciated but the time has come to take on a new phase in your life now that your sex drive is over forever. The only reason you need a woman at your age is to have someone to answer the rosary for you. Origami is an excellent past time and bridge is said to be a fine substitute for sex. Good luck on your retirement.
Men never lose the mind for sex. No matter what age they are. This old lady said to me: "You couldn't trust a man when it comes to sex, until he's at least six months dead." And now the world has come to the realisation that women are still attractive and in need of the bit of sex, well into middle-age and beyond.
No one knows the full facts of life. They know the mechanics but the emotional and technical side of sex is left to the happenstance lecture theatres of the University of Life. There is some knowledge out there, mostly self-taught, in a world where the only handbook for sex is porn. Proper sex education should continue long after school with full account taken of age and circumstance.
It saddens me so to see many older men deprived of their sex lives by radical surgery for the scourge of prostate cancer. As men, we do not talk openly about middle-aged issues such as erectile dysfunction. I have never heard of better sex being discussed in the Dáil.
Back when I was a boy we were taught the facts of life with the aid of an excellent hand-drawn diagram of the reproductive organs of the rabbit. And a great shock it was too to many of my friends when they realised the workings of a woman bore no relation to that of the chalk rabbit.
Sex is one of the most important parts of any relationships. Yet we are not that much better off educationally now in middle age than we were back in the adolescent days of the chalk rabbit. There is no sex education, or to be more specific, there is no official engagement by any of our numerous health agencies. Older people are as entitled as anyone else to embrace the intimacy of a healthy and fulfilling sex life.
Emily is having an affair on Apple Tree Yard and as is always the case, there will be trouble. I was in this pub one time and a nasty man said to one of the drinkers: "I hear Joe Bloggs is knockin' off your missus." The jilted husband replied: "Sure that's one less job for me to do." Affairs will go on as long as men are men and women are women. And young men will always fancy attractive and smarter older women like Emily.
But that's just a side show. There are far more affairs going on between couples who are married or partnered up and there is no third party involved. It's just the happy couple still in love and all lusted up after many years together.