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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
I’m a 50-year-old woman, in good health and attractive, I think. I have remained single after I divorced the father of my children almost 10 years ago, and the truth is that I haven’t had one meaningful relationship since. I’m still sexually active, though, and I have to add that my sex life may be somewhat racy at times, but I make no apologies for it, nor do I try to lead a secret existence beyond what’s normally expected to be private.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I’ve said so far, except for the fact that I date and have sex with men who are significantly younger than me. I’m talking about ages 19 up to 35, more or less. I feel extremely conflicted about this. I realize that my chances of having a romantic relationship with younger men are not so simple, and the old adage that “age is just a number” may suit men more than women due to expiration date on beauty and fertility. However, I cannot get myself attracted to men my age or even slightly younger. I’ve tried dating some, but I can’t get past that.
With younger men, on the other hand, everything flows perfectly when it comes to sex. Some of these young men may provide a little more than others in terms of intimacy, but I don’t expect it in general. What I do expect is certain sexual satisfaction, and so far things have worked out relatively well. I consider myself extremely lucky that younger men still find me attractive, so I have no problems in finding takers for my little forays.
I feel somewhat guilty at times. Men my age approach me at times and they are absolutely pleasant to be with, but I still cannot get myself to consider them as sexual partners. It’s been 15 years since the last time I went to bed with a man older than me, and you might as well make that 25 years since he was only one year older. I also lost my virginity to a guy who was two years younger than me, and even back in my younger years, I dated men who were younger, so this is not something that started recently.
I hope you can help me understand the situation I’m in. I sometimes wonder if I’ll end up alone in life because I’m not able to maintain companionship. It’s not that I mind that prospect, but more than being alone, I dread that I won’t be having any more sex after a certain age outside of a long-term relationship.
There it is! At the very end of your letter comes your real concern: You aren’t so much worried about ending up alone as you are about ending up without sex. Given your emphasis on youth and health, I wonder if the loss of sex symbolizes something bigger — say, a fear of aging or your own mortality? Those, it’s pretty safe to say, are universal concerns. (Then again, a fear of losing sex is perfectly understandable without any larger symbolism.)
As for the literal, as opposed to symbolic, concern of continuing to find younger partners, Cindy Gallop, my favorite lover of younger men, says you have nothing to worry about. The 52-year-old, who gave a now-infamous TED talk in which she boldly used her dalliances with 20-somethings as evidence of how porn has miseducated younger generations about sex, says, “As long as she has the confidence in herself and continues to want to have lots of sex, then quite frankly, she can continue on having sex as long as she likes,” says Gallop. “She will always, always, always be able to find younger men who will want to have sex with an older woman.”
Gallop has been “gob-smacked” by the sheer numbers of young men interested in older women, particularly on cougar dating sites, and says, “I am never proactive myself because I never have to be. I have more than enough to choose from.” She partially credits the adult industry for this: “I’m struck by the fact that for a lot of men who are into older women these days, increasingly the idea has been placed in their mind by the vast availability of MILF porn.”
Sex therapist and author Ian Kerner similarly underscores the fact that you are far from alone: “Women 50-plus are among the fasting-growing demographic of users of online dating sites, and many are finding themselves in relationships or at least ‘sexual situations’ with younger men and really enjoying it,” he says. “These are often women who put a lot of effort into feeling and looking good, and enjoy the sexual libido and attentiveness of younger men.”
And guess what, you’re allowed to have fun. “Now that you’re divorced and have been around the block, you’re not looking for the same things from a relationship that you were probably seeking when you wanted to get married and have a family. Perhaps now you can really focus on things that matter to you at present: a sexual connection, intimacy, fun, companionship.” He adds, “It sounds like you’re living your sex life to the fullest, and I would encourage you to continue to enjoy.” Although he points out that you should do so safely, as STI rates are skyrocketing among those 45 and up.
The “do your thang” cheering aside, it may be worth trying to better understand your interest in younger men, given the internal conflict it’s produced. In an email, psychologist and marriage counselor Randi Gunther fired off a bunch of questions in response to your letter: “Do you consider yourself younger than you are chronologically?” Are younger men “the same younger man to you”? “Have women been your primary adversaries?” (She explains this last question by noting that “mothers of young men under 20 or so might consider you exploitive.”)
Is your guilt a result of society’s disapproval or something else? I wonder, is the internal conflict a large part of what makes flings with younger men titillating? For her part, Gunther asks, “Do you feel you and the men you’re with are part of some role-to-role mutually disrespecting situation?” She also speculates, “I wonder if she’s been hurt in some of these exchanges. Most people are not finished with a relationship at exactly the same time unless it is a one-night pickup or something like that.”
These questions may hit on something important for you, or they may not. Take what’s relevant and discard what isn’t — just as with other people’s judgments. As Gallop says, “Don’t think in terms of the conventional societal models. Think in terms of ‘What do I enjoy? What’s right for me?’ and go right ahead and do it, regardless of what anyone else thinks.”
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)
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