Getting to the Good Part

Sex in middle-age marriages may not be what it once was, but there are more satisfying things to savor

You can take your impatient, can't-wait-another-minute passion that goes with new romance. I have no use for being out of control in love and obsessed with my beloved's every word, every gesture, every thought. I don't need to get weak in the knees when he touches my hand or thrill to the idea of him in my bed at night.

I've done that already. It was great, but I prefer deep, real, committed, long-time love any day—or night—of the week.

Over and over, the same conversation occurs among my middle-age, long-married friends.

"She never wants to have sex," say the husbands.

"I have so little sex drive. Menopause is ruining sex for me," say the wives.

"Well," says my friend the gynecologist, "the women who come to my office who are single are having lots of hot sex."

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Of course they are. They're out there having new, thrilling, seductive, I'm-falling-for-you sex. They're having first dates, first sexual encounters, first kisses. Remember first kisses?

But they don't have what I have. Or what I hope my middle-age, long-married friends have. They don't have 26 years of history with those hot sex partners. If you've been married for 26 years, hot sex is not easy to come by. It's certainly possible, especially at a resort with an electronic card for a room key and room service and an enormous bathtub. Or perhaps on the coast of Italy after a meal with lots of Brunello wine and pasta.

Away from the ordinary, extraordinary things can occur.

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If someone who's been married for 26 years tells you they're still having hot sex three times a week, they're either full of it or extremely lucky. They most likely don't have children or aging parents to worry about, or retirement to be planning for. They don't have insomnia, back pain or a weak bladder, they're not cancer survivors or living with a chronic illness. They're possibly faking it sometimes and most definitely saying yes occasionally when they'd rather say no.

And yet, even though the sex in middle-age marriages may not be what it once was, other satisfying things—even more satisfying than great sex, in some ways—are going on. If you've made it through the early years of no money and big fights, if you've had children and raised them, if you've aged together and still love each other in spite of the lines and wrinkles, the gray hair and yellow toenails, if you can still look at each other and see who you were when you were having all that wild, fabulous sex back in the day—then you've gotten to the good part.

Because now is when you can really enjoy each other as people—not as insatiable lovers, or parenting partners, or breadwinners, or whatever roles you took on during the busy, crazy years.

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If you're fortunate and married the right person all those years ago, when all you could think about was each other, when your bodies were first, your hearts were second and your minds a distant third, then you're going to be happier than you ever thought you could be when you were young and gorgeous and thought about middle age. If you even thought about it at all.

There's no one in the world I'd rather spend time with than my husband. No one who understands me or laughs with me or enjoys my company as much as he does. No one else who can look at me and remember the thousands of moments that have made up our lives together. When I was a young mother, I lived for girls' night out, but I have no need to escape from my marriage or my life anymore. I've never been this happy—and that's way, way better than hot sex.

Which we still have, sometimes.