A comment from a reader of my blog gave me some food for thought, and I’ve been digesting ever since.
“To me, sexuality = feeling strong and attractive and powerful and desirable,” this reader commented. “It’s important to feel like that with my man, but it’s also important to feel that way for me. And if I’ve ‘got it going on,’ it enhances my sexual relationship with my husband, too.”
So why is it important to feel confident and strong just for ourselves, and how is that connected to attractiveness and sexuality?
For starters, let’s just acknowledge that it’s darned hard to remain strong and confident as we grow older in a youth-and-beauty-crazed culture. At some point, the culture might have it, we’re not “hot” anymore; we’re not even lukewarm. We may be viewed (or view ourselves) as outdated and expendable. “…the fact remains that at midlife, women can feel invisible – or at worse, unattractive,” says psychologist Susan Quilliam in “Do You Have Midlife Mirror Angst Syndrome” in the Daily Mail.
The good news, however, is that even in the face of such powerful negative messages, women seem to come into their own at midlife. While anecdotal evidence supports this surge in confidence, research backs it up as well. In several longitudinal studies, women over 40 reported feeling powerful, productive, and in control of their destiny. “I think middle age for everyone involves a sense of ownership of one’s self and clarity about who you are,” said Abigail Stewart, professor of psychology at the Unive rsity of Michigan in M ore magazine.
So, despite negative cultural messages and what the mirror tells us, we manage to develop a sense of greater serenity, confidence, purpose, and productivity as we grow older. Research suggests that our emotions become more positive and stable as we age. We’ve weathered some storms. We’ve gained some perspective, even wisdom. We’ve “got it going on.” And that feels pretty good—just for ourselves.
But what does this have to do with sexuality? Or with better sex?
Sexuality—our “womanness”—is part of our essential nature. It’s our personhood. We can no more separate ourselves from our sexuality than we can cut out our heart. So, if we are confident and evolved as a person, it’s as a sexual female person, whether or not we are sexually active.
And if this confidence and maturity makes us attractive to men (and it does), we are probably also regarded highly by women as well. Also, when we are sure of our place in the world, we have the emotional energy to look outward; we can be empathetic and interested in others—and that’s attractive, too. “People of all ages love a confident woman, one who knows her own mind and can stand up for herself. Especially, it seems, the males of this world,” writes blogger Leslie Dowden for Fabafterfifty. “… A confident woman is attractive to everyone, and draws people to her—no matter what her age. But I also know that with age comes even greater self confidence—for me anyway.”
Since most of us could use a little emotional pick-me-up occasionally, here are some suggestions for cultivating greater self-confidence:
● Look your best—as you define it. Confident sexuality isn’t about looks or clothes, but being well-groomed makes you feel good about yourself. However, once you’ve completed your toilette for the day, put away the mirror and don’t look back.
● Cultivate gratitude. Gratitude and its sister, abundance, can revitalize your experience of the world. You can’t be grateful and indulge in self-pity at the same time. Admit it, you have a lot to be grateful for!
● Laugh. If nothing else, a good laugh releases endorphins, which are natural pain relievers and mood enhancers. But a sense of humor is also an attractive quality, and it helps you to see the glass half-full.
● Write your own script. You are the author of your life. Only you can write it, and it’s never too late to revise. So no more excuses! You’re responsible and in control.
● Act with confidence until you feel it. No one feels confident all the time in every situation. Sometimes, you just have to pretend. And sometimes, the very act of pretending gives you the confidence you need. And one more point: Sex is one of those virtuous cycle things. The more you have it, the more you’d like to have it. And that’s true for both emotional and physical reasons. At midlife, as hormones decline, I’m afraid it’s true that you “use it or lose it.” Being sexually active encourages both circulation and muscle tone. That could be enough to encourage you to engage. But it does more. Sex releases hormones that contribute to feelings of contentment and stress reduction stress, as well as making intimate connections. And, remember? We feel “strong and attractive and powerful and desirable” when we honor our sexuality.
Because, you know what? We’ve “got it going on.” Especially at midlife.