When Sex is New Again
In her new book, the best-selling author Iris Krasnow reveals how women really feel about intimacy—from their text-driven 20s to their golden years.
“I’ve never told anybody this” is a phrase I heard over and over while writing my latest book, Sex After. . .: Women Share How Intimacy Changes as Life Changes. Women told me secrets they’d be embarrassed to tell a therapist or even their best friend. I interviewed over 150 women about their intimate lives—through marriage and motherhood, illness and old age. Here are a few of the most memorable lessons these women taught me:
Sex in your 20s
In today’s hookup culture, sex happens quickly. One 20-something told me, “I can send a text and in less than an hour be in bed with a guy I met once briefly and may never see again.” It’s empowering, but by the same token, women this age tend to keep men at arm’s length. Old-fashioned as it sounds, I urge them to be unafraid of love. One man in his 20s told me, “I’ve been hooking up for three years, and it’s like candy: sweet but not nourishing. And I’m an emotional wreck.” So if you meet someone you think you want to explore on a deeper level, it’s important to say, “Hey, I’m feeling more than just an orgasm.”
Sex after marriage
That infatuation stage where you can’t eat or sleep because you’re so in love lasts two to three years, tops. After that, fantasy turns into reality. Suddenly you’re thinking, Oh my god, he snores and pees on the toilet seat. Is this all there is? I can’t believe I married this person. My advice: Put “be civil” on your to-do list. We forget, in the whirl of our lives, to be loving. Make time for intimacy. One woman I spoke to said she had sex every Wednesday. When I remarked that that seemed to take the mystery out of it, she remarked, “No, it doesn’t—we never know what time on Wednesday!”
Sex after a baby
What I’ve learned from my own experience and others’ is that instead of crossing your arms and huffing, “My partner isn’t helping me,” it’s better to be vulnerable and ask for what you want and need. If you can let the man in your life take care of you, even just by bringing you a bowl of soup, that’s really magical.
One long-married woman told me, “Even with kids, you have to put your marriage first.” I found that impossible to do, so I adjusted that dictum. Mine is “Try to love your spouse at least as much as you love your children.” Remember that amazing person who made your children possible. And if you’re able to push through those sleepless nights, eventually you’ll find that the richness of having created a family can be intoxicating and will magnify your love for each other.
Sex after infidelity
One woman I interviewed who’s married but having a long-term affair told me, “I have best of both worlds: the security of a husband and an intact family, and the passion of an affair.” Is it wrong? I’ve learned not to judge. I spoke to lots of women who did things I’d never dream of doing, but when I heard their stories and the depth of their despair and loneliness, I came to understand why they got involved in other romances.
For women who discover their partner has strayed, my advice would be to not dispose of your union without some serious self-reflection. One woman who found out about her husband’s affair felt so humiliated, she started working really hard on herself. She started running triathlons, getting physically strong, and fought for her marriage. Eventually her partner came crawling back, and they’re still happily together.
Sex after divorce
At this point, you may be in your 40s with stretch marks. It may be hard to get naked in front of someone new. But sex at this age can be better than ever if you practice a little self-acceptance and are honest with your partner about your vulnerabilities. Don’t rush into a new relationship. I heard a lot of “I don’t want to marry or even live with another person.” One divorcée I interviewed met a man, and they decided to buy different houses on the same block.
Sex after illness
One woman I spoke to had her husband come back from Afghanistan without a leg. At first it was hard, and it didn’t help that all she heard all day was “How’s your husband doing? Is he OK?” After reading in my book The Secret Lives of Wives that women in the happiest marriages had a sense of purpose and a passion outside their relationships, she became a waitress, which instilled some normalcy in her life and helped her deal more compassionately with what was going on at home. Today, they have a very sexy relationship. As she points out, “It’s just a leg.”
Sexuality and intimacy have so much more to do with the mind and soul than the body. One interview subject who proves this beyond a doubt is Vicki—a paraplegic who couldn’t move anything but her finger and mouth. Nonetheless, she met a great guy who was so nervous about getting intimate, she had to seduce him. Since then, they’ve gotten married, had babies, and live a very normal life.
Sex after menopause and into old age
If you’re a woman suffering from hot flashes and depression, don’t just sit around thinking, Gosh, I’m so sweaty and depressed. Look at your general health and try making some lifestyle changes, like exercise, before you start popping pills to solve your problem. And if you’re with a guy who’s taking Viagra and it’s turning him into the Energizer bunny, sit down and talk about whether that’s what you want. Many older couples who aren’t having rock-hard sex have discovered the joys of outercourse, like oral sex, and being adventurous in other ways.
I interviewed one couple in their 70s who’d just done a Tantric workshop. I interviewed widows in their 80s who were dating again and told me, “Iris, it’s not like I’m having Fifty Shades of Grey sex, but I feel like a teenager in love.” That’s why I dedicated this book to these bodacious golden girls. They’re my heroes. Their stories suggest that our very best years are yet to come.