Yes, Middle Aged Women Have Sex

In 2019, Hollywood started celebrating older mothers exploring their sexualities without shame.
Kathryn Hahn visits the Build Series to discuss her HBO show “Mrs. Fletcher” in October.
Kathryn Hahn visits the Build Series to discuss her HBO show “Mrs. Fletcher” in October.

After decades of watching cardiganed mothers and grandmothers in film and TV clutch their pearls at the thought of an orgasm (ahem, Diane Keaton in “Something’s Gotta Give”), single older moms are finally starring in unabashed, quivering sex scenes that would make the leading ladies of yesteryear blush. From “Mrs. Fletcher” to “Gloria Bell,” this year, Hollywood began to celebrate older mothers enjoying intercourse without shame — and, even more amazingly, without strings attached.

Why did it take us so long to get to this point, and what ignited the shift? In short, the slow torching of the patriarchy and the power of women everywhere reclaiming their own narratives, including their sexual journeys. It used to be that once women had kids and reached middle age, they were seen as having fulfilled their societal obligation and therefore sex was no longer necessary — a myth that was also perpetuated on screen. It’s why most older mom characters, regardless of marital status, were depicted as though their libidos had been depleted many years prior or that looming menopause had stolen their sex drives. Even more frustrating, any erotic urges they did have would be played for laughs, like in last year’s comedy “Book Club” (which, coincidentally, also starred Keaton).

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We see the shift on “Mrs. Fletcher,” as Eve (Kathryn Hahn), a divorcee, begins to reinvest in her sexual appetite through porn and erotic fantasies. Though porn has long revered the sexuality of older women, watching that finally shift over to the cable TV space is a radical pivot toward a freedom that women like Eve were never afforded in the past. Her son has just gone to college and she learns to refocus her attention on her own needs, including what turns her on.

It’s a common path for empty nesters like Eve who have spent so many years caring for their kids that they don’t even know where to begin with understanding what pleases them — or if it’s even what turned them on before they had kids.

Cyndi Darnell, a globally renowned sexologist, explained that this turning point in moms’ lives is about giving themselves the permission, as Eve says herself at one point, to explore the parts of themselves that they were taught were reserved for a man’s pleasure and not their own.

“They’re finding themselves desiring, not just desirable,” Darnell said. “[These women] are asking themselves, ‘What do I want sexually?’ ‘What might interest me?’”

And contrary to some pop culture depictions, single older moms aren’t all looking for someone else to settle down and make a life with. Just like their younger peers, some just want to have companions that they can count on to satisfy their sexual hunger. To that end, the season of “Mrs. Fletcher” culminated with Eve finally reaching her climax in a titillating threesome with her friend Amanda (Katie Kershaw) and Julian (Owen Teague), a much younger man with whom she flirted all season long.

“The narrative was always, ’When you’ve found the right man and you love him and he’s proven his worth to you, then you can open your legs to him,” Darnell said. “Whereas now it’s, ‘Is he going to fuck you the way you want to be fucked?’”

It’s the question that every single older mother is — or at least should be — beginning to ask herself, especially now that monogamy and heteronormativity are also being challenged. Women have always wanted to have great sex, however and with whomever they want. It’s just that now characters are finally expressing that onscreen — where their sexual pleasure was rarely thought of before.

Not all single older moms are struggling to reconnect with their eroticism and willing to try an orgy like Eve, though. Still, it’s refreshing to see them simply depicted as women who desire rich relationships where they can connect with someone on a physical level. But unlike what was depicted in the 1978 film “An Unmarried Woman,” in which a woman navigates the dating scene after her husband of 16 years leaves her, today characters like hers are looking for love and good sex.

Julianne Moore and John Turturro attend a screening of "Gloria Bell" in March.
Julianne Moore and John Turturro attend a screening of "Gloria Bell" in March.

Mothers like the titular character in this year’s indie film “Gloria Bell,” played by Julianne Moore, want to vibe with a partner emotionally, spiritually and sexually. That’s exemplified in a beautifully natural scene with Arnold (John Turturro) spooning Gloria in bed.

It’s utterly absurd that erotic scenes like those in “Gloria Bell” and “Mrs. Fletcher” are so revolutionary. For Jordan Wiggins, a sexologist and neuropathic doctor, that’s because women are too often seen as either mothers or sexual beings, not both.

“There’s this underlying belief that being a mom means not being sexual,” she said. “It’s a message I find from the media that portrays sex as only for young people or procreation. Then you become this dried up old prune. We don’t get to see what that evolution is like throughout a lifetime.”

With dating apps and other non-traditional forms of romance at our fingertips, older moms are now looking online to find their next partner and creating profiles that compel them to describe themselves and their desires in their own words — often for the first time in their lives.

“Evil,” a CBS show, deserves props for featuring Sheryl (Christine Lahti), a grandmother proudly swiping for partners on Tinder. Even more noteworthy, she gets to have an incredibly steamy sex scene (so hot it literally caught on fire) where her boyfriend — who is the literal devil, played by Michael Emerson — pins her down to a bed. It’s obviously heightened for the horror genre, but the fact that Sheryl’s sexual agency is as prominent as her desire to support her daughter and take care of her grandchildren is profound.

“There’s now a shift towards ‘and,’” Wiggins says. “You’re a mom and a CEO, a mom and someone that enjoys sex. So, I think we’re starting to explore what it means to be a whole person, not just one-dimensional older women like we used to see on TV.”

It only took a while for us to get here, but we’re finally in an era when older moms aren’t coquettish characters giggling at the mere utterance of the word “sex.” Eve, Gloria and Sheryl are fictional heroines leading a new feminist movement that includes older women actually having sex on screen — and climaxing, which is most important. Because they deserve it.