About 15 years ago I attended an International Women’s Day Event run by the Council at my local community centre, on the subject of campaigning. I learned there that the local park where I took my wee ones, was only as well equipped as it was, because a group of mums had campaigned for it.
They organised themselves and demanded the play park be created to give their children and other children, in the area, a decent place to play.
Given how many hours I spent there with my kids and their friends, and my friends, I was very grateful that they had done that campaigning, and without that event I would never have known.
We don’t always know the history of things.
In my case find it hard to remember facts and dates, but I do have a tendency to remember stories.
Recently I’ve been doing a bit of research on my family and the little I’ve gleaned so far, tells me that I am having an experience of life that is different to the generations of women who went before me.
Women who experienced hunger, leaving school early to support their families.
Women with very limited choices and opportunities around education, work, choice of partner, options to leave if the marriage wasn’t working, poverty, poor health, violence and more.
I can see that there were courageous and difficult choices that my own mother made in her life that have greatly benefitted me in my life.
I know there are so many other women whom I don’t know, and whose stories I will never hear, who have helped create conditions that allow me to live the life that I live.
I acknowledge and carry on the work these women have done.
In the past, many women were silenced. Many still are. I choose to use my voice and to insist on being heard.
I shall continue to tell my stories, and the stories of the women who honour me with their trust, by sharing those stories for the benefit of other women who wish their voices to be heard.
Today I’m sharing a story from a woman who writes beautifully and courageously I think, about her own sexual journey:
Sex at Seventy By Mary
I wanted to write a spell-binding story, one with lots of plot twists and one in which the heroine (me) overcomes adversity and courageously fights prejudice until at the end she finds the sexual satisfaction she has been searching for all her life. A story full of profound insight and deep revelation, a story that others might relate to, especially a story for those who are bravely hanging on in tough situations, who have never found the lover they long for, who have never found the sexual fulfilment they deserve.
But as I look back at my life as a sexually active being – about fifty years can you believe it? – the truth is, as with so many things in a woman’s life, the story is not one of great highs and lows, or moments of excitement and drama – the story is one of patience and perseverance and determination never to give up.
I don’t mean, ‘grit your teeth and think of England’, I mean – this is the song we as woman sing throughout our lives– whatever the context – patience, perseverance and determination are the way we go, the way we get through.
Patience, perseverance and determination as a mother hands her baby to an American soldier at Kabul airport; patience, perseverance and determination as my daughter takes her three children and leaves her abusive husband; patience, perseverance and determination as a friend comes out as gay after fifty years of heterosexual marriage; patience, perseverance and determination as I go through whatever is happening to my body at each and every different stage of my life; patience, perseverance and determination that a sexual being is who I am, and nothing is going to make me give that up.
So here are the three things that came near to stopping me having good sex. For some of you they will seem unbelievably superficial. If you have experienced bereavement, illness, abuse or a traumatic experience such as rape – all of those are enough to halt the sex life of even the most sensual woman – I am just telling it how it has been for me.
- Religion – specifically a religious leader who was so scared of sex and women that he taught us all to think of sexual desire as disgusting and of the devil. But halleluiah, I persevered. This was the sixties and so I went to London, found a decent man (who was also kind and sweet) and went on the pill. The sex was mediocre but hey, I had made a start!
- Giving birth – specifically four times. Married by now to a different man, also decent and kind but also wonderful and a good lover, (very good? hey we both had a lot to learn). But nobody had told me that even with a very good lover, giving birth and breast feeding turn you off sex so that it becomes the last thing you ever want ever again! All I wanted to do was to protect my body so that it was never touched again, to retreat into my shell, to pull in my sensory antennae, to be walled into a cell like a medieval anchorite and never come out again. But halleluiah, I persevered. I looked at the future and imagined myself as a shrivelled up old maid and so my husband had the snip, and with a lot of stopping and starting, and with a lot of patience and perseverance, (and to be honest lots of times when I didn’t enjoy it one bit and I was convinced that I would never again orgasm) my libido returned, and the sex became even more sparky than ever because at last I could forget about birth control! Yay!
And by the way it was sometime around then when I (we) realised that the so called ‘missionary position’ must be a male invention to keep the woman submissive and to make sure she never enjoys herself. Don’t think we have ever used it since.
- The Menopause. All women, at some point in their lives go through this.
Specifically, for me, apart from the mood swings (bad enough) the worst thing was that my vagina became a yeast growing factory – candida albicans to be precise. The inside of my vagina was like the lair of Shelob, the gigantic spider in the Lord of the Rings Frodo has to pass through on his way to Mordor. Enter at your peril. Any unsuspecting occupant strangled, choked to death by a vast sticky spider web, the walls red raw and dripping with slime, mouldy dead stuff round every corner …. and please don’t mention the smell.
Specially hell for me because my husband was working in the States, and I was over there on leave from my university job. Did you know, you can’t buy Canesten 2% over the counter in the U.S.? I wanted to die. Every day all day. And there was no doubt in my mind that this was the end of sex. Forever!
I walked off the plane in Manchester airport, walked into Boots and bought them out of Canesten. For the next two weeks until my husband came home, I literally bathed in the stuff. Whole tubes at a time squeezed up my vagina. The relief was (almost) orgasmic.
Once he was home, I made up my mind, (patience, perseverance and determination) that either we use it or we would lose it. Not an easy decision. My vagina had become a narrow, sandpaper lined tunnel. Did I say narrow? Not just narrow. The portcullis dropped and the drawbridge raised. Nothing, and I mean nothing, would ever enter it again. And just my luck – I seem to have some sort of allergic reaction to all the usual over-the-counter lubricants. So, was that it? Had I come to the end at the grand old age of fifty-three?
We moved house to a new city, and one day I came across a shop front with Organic Pleasures For Women written over the door. An Aladdin’s Cave of beautifully curated, beautifully packaged tasteful items for the pleasure of women and, I couldn’t believe it, – all organic!
Yes – I shouted – which was both my explosion of delight at the time, and the name of the lubricant that I bought there.
And I ask myself, why are there not shops like these in every city? Somewhere that takes me seriously, an ordinary woman with four children and nine grandchildren who has been with the same partner for 45 years, who still wants good (sorry, I mean really good) sex.
Also, at this point in my life, I joined a church that affirmed me, mind, spirit and body. It was good to learn that my sexual desire is part of who I am as a created being.
Next month I’ll be 70 years old. A couple of years ago I discovered for the first time multiple orgasms. Who said that it wouldn’t keep getting better? I just had to be patient and with determination, to persevere.