When DOES a woman feel at her sexiest New research says it's at 28. But PAMELA STEPHENSON – looking back at her own very colourful love life – begs to differ
09:20 GMT, 2 August 2012
Pulling the neckline of my elasticated summer blouse off one shoulder in an attempt to look alluring, I batted my eyelashes at the slightly older boy on the ferry. We were on a school trip, and while I was only about 11, I was desperate to catch his eye.
No one had taught me to behave like that, in the same way that no one had shown me how to swirl my cotton skirt to get his attention, but I innately knew what to do. And I remember how thrilled I was when it worked and he planted a soft, chaste kiss on my cheek.
Fifty-plus years on, I’m still baring a shoulder to attract men — well, one man, my husband Billy — and feeling sexy is still important to me. Yet, if a recent survey which claimed that 28 is the age at which women feel sexiest is to be believed, I should have put these feelings behind me long ago.
Sexy over sixty: Pamela aged 62, left, feels much sexier now than she did aged 28
My levels of desire, and desirability, have fluctuated all my life. Many clients who visit me in my capacity as a U.S. based sex therapist report similar changes — due to many factors, from work stress to breastfeeding to the menopause. But how does our desire change over the decades
TEENS: Feeling sexy is pleasing — and scary
Aged 18: Pamela learning the lessons of love
Nowadays, music videos and the prevalence of internet erotica mean a generation of boys expect girls to resemble porn stars.
But in my day, growing up in Australia, looking sexy meant something rather wholesome — all surfer-girl tan and pouty-lipped promise. At this age, feelings of sexiness are always tinged with anxiety, with questions like: ‘Aren’t my boobs going to grow any more’ I remember, aged 14, comparing myself to girls who sprouted boobs before I did — the ones being asked out on dates — and being furious with my body for not co-operating.
I was aware of my burgeoning sex drive, but also realised that I didn’t have the attributes to attract teenage boys. Within a couple of years, however, I’d learned to cheat; the invention of the Wonderbra was a good few years away, but I stuck rolled-up socks in my bikini top instead. I enjoyed the looks I got — well, until I went for a swim. One word: waterlogged!
Once I reached my late teens, bleached-blonde babe phase, I remember the sense of sexual power when men wolf-whistled at me, but my sexiness was pleasing and upsetting all at the same time because it was a little scary getting so much attention from older men.Teenage girls think ‘being sexy’ involves pleasing boys — and this can mean they end up doing things they don’t feel comfortable with.
Teenagers also have a difficult time with their sexiness, because well, they’re not really supposed to be having sex, are they From around 14, I discovered the pleasures of what might be terms ‘outercourse’ — highly erotic encounters that took place in cars parked in dark, quiet streets, but stopped short of full-blown sex.
These embryonic relationships taught us vital lessons about falling in love — and, more often, how to deal with heartbreak.
TWENTIES: At last I knew what turned me on in bed
The minute we turn 21 there are ‘expectations’. All of a sudden, we’re expected to have lots of sex — and be darn good at it. However, it takes time to learn how to be sexually comfortable, and we often have other priorities — establishing ourselves in our careers, for one.
I was ambivalent about the sexiness I felt in my twenties. I could never quite decide whether I wanted to be perceived as sexy or smart and I found it was hard to be both.
And as a young comedian trying to make my name in Not The Nine O’Clock News, I used to get confused when people asked: ‘Can a woman be sexy and funny’ It implied being funny detracted from one’s ability to be sexy. Funny men are often thought to be sexy, but it seemed the same rules didn’t apply to women.
Aged 27: The aspiring comic proves she can be clever, funny – and sexy
I certainly felt sexy at that time, and quite a lot of my comedy was sexually-charged, so I received endless attention from male ‘fans’ and admirers. However, at 27, I had married my first husband, actor Nicholas Ball — a man I was mad for sexually — so I had no need to look elsewhere.
How to present oneself sexually is a quandary for many young career women who are serious about their work but are also anxiously searching for partners. Already hormonal influences are steering us towards wanting to make babies, something nature would prefer us to do in our twenties. But, like many women of that age, I was far too busy with my career.
More than half of people aged 75 to 85 have sex two to three times a month, a U.S. survey found
Most women in their late twenties have probably had enough sexual experiences to feel reasonably confident in the bedroom. I remember feeling that at last I knew what I was doing, that I more or less understood who I was sexually. I knew what turned me on, what I enjoyed doing erotically and my ideal partner choices.
Such sexual self-confidence in turn creates sexiness; men tend to like a woman who knows herself sexually. She’s not going to leave them frustrated or feeling inadequate. Such women feel especially desirous and desirable, and this may be at the root of the findings of the recent study that women feel sexiest at 28.
At any age, there are two main aspects to feeling sexy. Firstly, there’s the way we feel inside — a hormone-driven, essential sexiness, that could have us in a tizzy even if we were stranded alone on a desert island.
Secondly there’s a sense of being considered attractive by others, being made to feel like a desirable woman.
These two elements work together; if a woman has sexual desire and feels she is attractive, she will exude sexiness, and partners will be drawn to her, which will in turn reinforce her sense of desirability. I felt very sexy back then — but to be honest, no more so than I did between babies, in my forties, and right now!
THIRTIES: Pregnant and feeling very sexy
Aged 35: Motherhood taught her more about her body
In our thirties, either that biological clock is ramping up our efforts to attract a long-term partner and we’re at one of our sexiest phases, or else we’ve already started a family and are just too tired to feel sexy.
I met my husband Billy Connolly when I was 30, and a very sexually-confident young woman — although we were drawn to each other for many more reasons than sex. We didn’t actually marry until much later, but between 34 and 38 I had our three children. I remember those little patches of baby sick on my shoulder at all times. Did I feel like a yummy mummy No way.
Many women feel very sexy during pregnancy — I know I did — but for hormonal reasons a breastfeeding mother’s libido drops. That, in addition to surviving on a few hours’ sleep, living in one’s pyjamas, and wondering ‘What the hell just happened to my body’ doesn’t exactly put one in the mood for sex.
I know my sex drive went down drastically until my children were weaned. Like the exact opposite of a Ferrari accelerating – 100 to 0 in seconds. However, soon after, my sexual self returned in force. Vroom vroom!
On the positive side, I felt less passive sexually — more ready to initiate sex and take control at times — and that’s quite common for women in their thirties, as they gain even more sexual finesse and power.
In my case, since my new movie career demanded that I plan the timing of my pregnancies very carefully, I was probably too quick to voice my sexual demands.
Poor Billy. Hearing the words: ‘Quick! My temperature just went up so we have to do it NOW!’ can’t have been a turn-on.
But pregnancy teaches us a lot more about our bodies, and this is a time for experimenting and finding new approaches that adapt to our changing size and shape, which can enhance our love-making generally.
Women in their thirties still judge their sexiness partly by how their partners and others regard them. In my job as a psychologist specialising in sex therapy, when men complain to me that their wives have lost their libido, I tell them a good start is to help them feel sexy and desirable again. The words: ‘Why don’t you ever do (favourite sex treat) any more’ are not going to produce results.
Instead: ‘Honey, you look gorgeous. Let’s leave the kids with your sister, and go out so I can show you off!’ can work wonders. Or (my favourite style of foreplay): ‘Put your feet up — let me do the dishes!’
FORTIES: Not afraid to ask for what we want
Aged 44: Sex has to fit around
a demanding job and family
In our forties we can be ultra-sexy. This is the decade when we are finally unafraid to ask a partner for exactly what we want — and are able to teach him if he doesn’t know how.
I remember finally getting over the feeling that I was being selfish if I made sexual demands (‘Nobody leaves the room until I’ve had my third orgasm!’). Being fully satisfied only enhances one’s long-term relationship, and makes it less likely that either party will stray — one of the common pitfalls of our forties.
However, the demands of family life can make prioritising sex difficult. Many women wait until their thirties to start bearing children, so in their forties they still have kids round the house — inquisitive ones, who are old enough to know what’s happening when the bedroom door is locked. That can put dampener on sexual fun. And switching hats, as a woman must constantly do, between wife, mother, career woman, carer of elders etc, leaves little room for her inner sex siren. Stress and overwork has a terrible effect on one’s sexiness.
I well remember how hard it was to do the school run, complete a day’s work in my office, hurry home for meal times and bedtime stories with my children, then start preparing my lecture notes. I was doing sex therapy and teaching it but it was hard to find time to practise what I preached.
‘I wish you’d bring your work home more often,’ Billy complained.
FIFTIES: The children go and desire returns
In my fifties I began to worry more about ageing. Combined with feeling unhappy about my weight and the way my bottom had spread from sitting down all day — as well as the effects of menopause — all combined to make me feel less sexy.
Body image worries can certainly reduce sexual feelings and women in their fifties are often all-too-aware that they are ageing, which works against feeling sexy — especially if they are receiving negative feedback about their attractiveness from partners and society at large. I remember that, even though Billy was endlessly supportive and complimentary, I still had that horrid ‘I’m becoming invisible’ feeling.
When I was 54 I embarked on a bit of a make-over, exercising more and taking hormone supplements. Once my children left home I also had more time to travel and follow other pursuits. As a result I felt my sexual desire returning.
Aged 56: Blissfully happy with
her husband Billy Connolly
And without the day-to-day care of children, there’s more time to relax and enjoy sex. There is also more time to pamper oneself, and that extra relaxation can create a lazy sense of sexual availability that can be very alluring. Having sex enhances the quality of our lives and helps keep us bonded to our partners.
Unfortunately, some women in their fifties allow their sense of sexiness to dwindle. It’s certainly their right if that is what they want, but sex works on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis and, at some stage, they may come to regret it. Stop believing the voices that tell us ‘it’s all over at 50’.
Nonsense! Fifty is the new 30.
SIXTIES: Experiment more than ever before
Dancing queen at 60: Strictly gave Pamela a new lease of life – and a trimmer figure
Women in their sixties and beyond are sexually blessed! As a free bus-pass-holder myself, I know that first-hand. We’ve got over our body image issues, and finally have a sense of humour about the ageing process.
We have begun to experience sex the way it’s meant to be — not as a performance, but as something to be savoured — slowly and sensually.
Most importantly, we can be content just feeling sexy for its own sake — we don’t necessarily need the constant validation from others we craved when we were younger.
Keeping fit can help. When I took part
on Strictly Come Dancing at 60, I lost over 2st and felt far more
vibrant, which certainly gave our love-life a boost.
becomes more important over 60. My skin seems ultra sensitive now —
almost as if it’s a sex organ itself. Yes, we slow down sexually and
discover lots of sensual pleasures we never found before, because we
were always rushing.
all that pressure, people in their sixties and beyond can be more
experimental sexually than ever before. Well, what’s stopping them
They’re free from worries of pregnancy, they’ve got more leisure time — and it doesn’t cost anything!
just don’t talk much about it, perhaps because society seems to be
negative about those who are ‘sexy over 60’. I say we should just get on
with long-lasting, unpressured erotic fun. But shh! Don’t tell the
youngsters. It’s our sexy little secret.