I haven’t lost my libido. Mislaid it at times, perhaps, but not completely lost it. Possession of a SuperGold Card doesn’t swipe away the sensual senses and sensations of a good old burst of lust, or so they tell me. But when you’re a woman over 60, sex becomes a standing joke in stand-up comedy repertoire. It’s okay for guys over 60 to talk about it, just not women. And especially not in front of the children, even though they’ve got their own offspring now and clearly know what it’s all about.
Imagine the horror then, having a mother who writes about it.
Writing fiction takes quite a bit of courage – exposing aspects of yourself, your fantasies, your innermost thoughts. Writing sex scenes takes even more courage. And writing sex scenes for over 60s requires an extra layer of tact.
Our body parts aren’t quite as luscious and taut as they once were. Popular fiction usually describes beautiful lithe young women (it doesn’t matter if the guy is old), who have no stretch marks, droops or wrinkles. Whereas the older or less in shape we become, the more self-conscious we are about our body parts.
It’s not such an issue, of course, if we’re still with the same partner – the one who has grown old as we’ve grown old. If we’re single and over sixty, and another man comes along, the initial reaction might well be joy that we’re still alluring. But then the fear factor sets in. If we can’t stand looking at ourselves in a bathing suit, what is a fella going to think? And how do you write about it when inhibitions finally fall away and the couple embark on coupling?
It’s not as easy as you think.
I remember the very first sex scene I wrote, I got so excited I thought it surpassed Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Then I read it in the cold light of the next day and I nearly barfed. It was pure purple prose, the sort they parody in book reviews.
Nine novels later, I think I’ve got sex scenes sussed, with quite a bit of help from a few simple guidelines other authors have been kind enough to share:
- Women see passion differently from men. Men’s fiction tends to describe the physical action; women’s fiction portrays passion through emotions, through context, through the relationship. It’s what leads up to the sex that makes it steamy.
- Sometimes it’s best to leave the reader outside the bedroom door and let any love-making take place in the white space between chapters. It becomes tedious to the reader if there are too many sex scenes. Unless, of course, you want to read porn or erotic fiction, which are definitely not my genres.
- Why have a sex scene at all? If it adds to plot or character development, it’s useful to the reader. Love scenes can lay bare a lot about both characters.
My Third-Age Buddy used to grow several inches taller when people asked him if he was the role model for the sex scenes in my books. Now he’s got a Gold Card, I’m not so sure people will dare ask. In fact it required a lot of courage to write a sex scene at all for my next book – the first to come out since I’ve joined the Gold Card generation. In the end, I couldn’t not have one; it wouldn’t have made sense if they didn’t get together at some stage. But it’s very different from when my protagonist was a lot younger in my last book about her. “In the second it took to reach the bedroom door, my mind raced between elation and terror. And at the root of both these emotions was the sad truth that I hadn’t had sex in a very long time.”
It does follow the guidelines: it’s all about what’s she’s feeling, thinking, experiencing, and there is only one such scene. If it looks imminent again, we can leave it in the white space between chapters.
Our generation of women are no prudes. We grew up in the 1960s and 70s when sexual freedom and women’s sexual pleasures were a matter of public debate. Sex scenes are no longer likely to shock. It was only in 1960 that people were allowed to read the full text of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, sex scene included – 32 years after its publication. And in 1973, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying helped pave the way for it being okay to describe female orgasm from a woman’s point of view in literature.
At high school, I recall the excitement when someone in my class brought an unexpurgated copy of Lady Chat to school and opened it straight to page 179 or whatever it was and read out the whole scene. We hadn’t much of a clue what it meant of course, but that didn’t diminish the thrill. These days, schoolkids can read erotica on the internet, unless their parents have good blockers. Sex scenes are de rigueur.
But it’s still not de rigueur to write about women over 60 getting steamy. Not all that long ago, revered author Doris Lessing wrote Love Again, about a 65-year-old woman finding her sensual self late in life. It was ridiculed by the New York Times as unbelievable. “So, who is this sexagenarian sex kitten?” the review mocked. But they wouldn’t have said that if it was a 65-year-old man.