We Don’t Age Out of Our Sexuality
This post is part of a weekly Her.meneutics series called The Sex We Don’t Talk About, designed to feature female perspectives on aspects of sex and sexuality that can go overlooked in the church.
During the season 6 premiere of Downton Abbey, head housekeeper Mrs. Hughes confides to her friend Mrs. Patmore, the house’s cook, that she is concerned about intimacy in her impending marriage. “Look at me,” she says. “I’m a woman in late middle age.” Hughes wonders if it would be better to leave that side of their relationship dormant, living instead with her older husband-to-be as a “very loving brother and sister.”
At the episode’s end, the older couple has a tender conversation about whether their aging bodies would be desirable. The pair’s final embrace leaves no doubt that they will be living not as brother and sister but as husband and wife.
That was 1925, Since then, a whole sexual revolution has taken place. But in our contemporary discussions of sex, the topic of later-in-life sex remains an awkward afterthought.
In the tide of Christian books addressing marriage and sexuality, intimacy at midlife and beyond typically receives a cursory mention in the final chapter, if brought up at all. When evangelical pastors decided years ago to start talking (and talking) about married sex from the pulpit, the scope of many of these lessons was pretty limited: Have more sex. Have better sex. It was as if we were trying to take our cues from over-sexualized popular culture while trying to one-up it.
Local churches—like the rest of society—have kept their messaging about mature sex…well, immature. Our lessons focus on those who are married and relatively young. Singles have long felt marginalized or ignored in church conversations about sexuality. Those in the second half of life often find themselves in the same boat, relegated as either hormonal eunuchs or couples whose sexual season has long past.
When we solely address married couples in the first half of life, we are speaking to an increasingly small group. Statistics tell us that on average, American women are now 27 and men 30 at the time of their first marriage. By 2020, more than 35 percent of the population will be over 50. Plus, more than half of all adults in the country are single.
As the “senior” demographic grows in the American population and in our churches, discussions of later-in-life sexuality will be part of ongoing discipleship. Especially in contrast to culture’s prescription to stay “sexy at 70” and stave off the effects of aging with drugs that promise to keep us young (and virile), our communities can serve their members well by making spaces where we can speak in frank, God-honoring ways about the challenges of growing older. Topics like:
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