The image of the older woman who is sexually confident and wants more adventure in bed is quite common in our culture.
Think of the “cougar” stereotype, that older woman who is looking for a younger man to satisfy her.
Recently, when I was flying back from Kenya, the movie Book Club was offered, and it fits this stereotype perfectly. Book Club, starring Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, and Jane Fonda, follows four senior women who have choose to read 50 Shades of Grey–and supposedly find a whole new world of sexy confidence. I have a particular interest in how this book is affecting our culture, since I think it was one of the big catalysts for the surge in erotica and porn use among women, and so I thought I’d check it out.
I watched maybe 20 minutes before I couldn’t take it anymore, so I honestly don’t know how it turned out, but given the immense problems with 50 Shades of Grey, I can’t think it was anything very good. But still, I believe that the movie tapped into an important thing that many women feel, and to explain it, I’ll just tell a story of your average woman, and we’ll call her Jane.
Jane grows up dreaming of being married to a wonderful guy who will sweep her off of her feet.
She marries off her Barbies. She practises kissing into her pillow when she’s 12 years old. She has crushes in youth group and some of them break her heart.
Along the way, she learns a thing or two about sex. She hears from the culture that she’s valued if she looks a certain way. She likes it when boys want to talk to her, but she also knows that it’s often tied to how she looks. She feels uncomfortable when she starts growing breasts, and especially when older guys ogle her. She wants to be pretty, and she yearns to look like all the girls on TV, but she’s never quite sure how to dress her body, and she always feels quite frumpy.
When she gets to college, she meets a guy who she absolutely adores.
He loves her back. They spend hours talking–and hours making out. She loves feeling carried away when they kiss, but at the same time she knows she has to keep her wits about her and make sure that they don’t go too far. So she tends to find these episodes exhilarating and annoying at the same time. She hates always having to be on guard. She wishes that sometimes he would want to do something else.
They get married, and she has great visions of what it means to be a good wife. She’s learning how to make awesome meals. She wants to start figuring out how to keep the house clean for once in her life, and finds she’s actually not bad at it. She loves being married, but she wishes that sex weren’t quite the big deal for her husband that it is. I mean, she likes sex, she supposes. But she also misses all the long walks, and all the long talks they had before they got married. She sometimes wonders if life was better before sex came into the picture, because now it seems he’s always annoyed at her if sex doesn’t happen, and she’s tired of feeling not good enough.
That “not good enough” feeling permeates into all of Jane’s life.
She tries really hard, but she can never make the money go far enough, or the meals tasty enough. With her job, she feels respected and she’s going places, but she hates that she seems to have twice as much work to do as her husband, because she still has to do most of the housework.
When the kids come, she feels a whole new level of love than she ever thought possible. They become her focus. Yet even though she loves them, she sometimes wonders what it would be like to be alone for a whole day. She wishes to have that endless to do list that’s always going through her brain just shut up. She doesn’t want to always be thinking about the doctor’s appointments and the dentist’s appointments and catching the sales at the grocery store and picking up the birthday present for her daughter’s best friend’s birthday party.
In the meantime, her husband is getting more and more into video games. He’s pulling away. She finds work far more satisfying than being with him, but she knows she just has to try harder. She decides she’ll lose some weight, because she’s so angry that she put on 40 pounds since having babies. She tries. And tries. And tries. Her husband has given up asking for sex now.
When the kids are grown, they scatter. One goes to school on the other side of the country. Another heads overseas on a mission. And one son marries, but he spends way more time with his in-laws than with them. The people she devoted her entire life to for 25 years are gone.
And one day, Jane wakes up and realizes she doesn’t know who she is anymore.
And she gets mad.
She has spent her whole life trying–and it hasn’t gotten her very far. She threw her all into her children, and they’re gone now. She’s spent her whole life feeling not good enough, and her husband seems to agree. She knows she bores him, because he’s never around. But quite frankly, he bores her, too.
Why, when sex didn’t feel very good, was it something she had to fix? Why didn’t he think to himself, “wow, my wife isn’t getting much out of this. Maybe I should be a better lover!”
In fact, sex seems to be the heart of a lot of her anger. Sex was always something she did for him. She had to be beautiful–for him. She had to want sex enough–for him. She had to learn to be a good lover–for him. And so she never really enjoyed her own body. It was something that someone else got to use. And she’s tired of it. She wants to be all who Jane can be!
And so it’s her turn now! It’s her turn to discover that ball of fire she was in college, when the world was stretched out in front of her, and the possibilities were endless. Because she finally realizes that if she doesn’t do something now, she’s never going to do it.
She has given her life for everyone else, and no one has come back to her to say, “what can I do to make you happy, Jane?” Giving to others hasn’t helped her. It’s time that she think about herself first.
Our world is full of Janes–women who give so much of themselves to their families, who accept the constant guilt of not being good enough, who don’t think about what they actually want, but only what is expected of them.
I think our churches are full of more Janes even than the world is (and perhaps that’s why the sales of 50 Shades of Grey were even higher in states where church attendance was the highest). There are a lot of very dissatisfied women out there.
Something happens when women have been dissatisfied and dismissing their own needs for years.
One day, especially around menopause and when the children leave, they realize that they want more from this life, and if they don’t get it now, they’ll never get it.
I don’t want you to be a middle-aged or senior Jane.
I don’t want you to one day wake up and be super angry because your needs haven’t mattered your whole life. I don’t want you to think that sex has always been something you did for him–and so from now on it’s going to be something you’ll do for you, darn it! I don’t want you to feel like your whole life has been a waste.
And so let me suggest something to you:
You matter. But so does your husband. So cling tightly to both your own passions and your life together.
If you are still in your twenties, thirties, even forties…don’t be a Jane.
Don’t devote yourself so much to your kids that you lose any sense of who you are. You’re still a woman! Have friends. Develop hobbies. Spend some time by yourself.
Don’t let our culture tell you whether or not you are beautiful. Love the body you have. Eat well and sleep well. It isn’t selfish to spend time on yourself. Fight the frump now!
Don’t let yourself drift apart in your marriage and rely on your kids for your emotional needs instead. Talk to your husband if you’re feeling taken for granted. Find hobbies as a couple to do so you keep laughing and don’t get bored.
But when it comes to sex, don’t make it all about him! Don’t have sex just “for him”. Don’t think that your own orgasms don’t matter. Don’t dismiss sex altogether because it’s a bother and there are more important things to do. You need passion in your life! You were made to feel carried away, and to feel good.
And that doesn’t mean making sex into something that’s primarily for you (the mistake that Jane makes in her senior years). It means understanding that sex is about both of you, together. Sex is about intimacy, and physical pleasure, all tied up into one. You both matter. Even if it takes a lot of hard conversations about how to make sex feel good or how to make you feel desired, fight through it. Don’t shy away from it. Talk about it!
If you don’t figure out how to embrace sex and how to speak up about what you really need emotionally in your early years of marriage, and it will be hard not to be a Jane later.
If you are in menopause or older…choose real passion.
The key to passion isn’t 50 Shades of Grey. It’s learning true emotional vulnerability with your husband, at the same time as you learn to embrace yourself and let go of control. Great sex isn’t about focusing on what you want as much as it is rebuilding your relationship so that you’re passionate about each other again.
If you’ve lived your whole life for other people, and you don’t know who you are anymore, then sex can’t be passionate, because sex is a joining of two different beings. If you have already disappeared, then sex is missing something. Sex is the ultimate “knowing” of each other, as I explained in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. If you don’t even know who you are, then it’s hard to experience that “knowing” with someone else.
So go on a journey with yourself. Discover your passions, your callings, the things that bring you joy. Start truly communicating with your husband about what you want and what makes you excited in life.
But above all, remember that real satisfaction doesn’t come just in concentrating on only yourself. It comes in valuing yourself, and then loving those around you. Becoming selfish doesn’t lead to great sex, and it certainly won’t lead to a fulfilling life. But neither will constantly ignoring your own needs and wants, either.
You matter. But so does your husband. So cling tightly to both your own passions and your life together–and then hopefully you won’t become a Jane.
Marriage Shouldn’t Be BORING!
Why do you think women become dissatisfied over time? What can we do about it? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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