Why it took until I was 49 for my sex life to be truly sizzling

Why it took until I was 49 for my sex life to be truly sizzling: Four-times-married author BARBARA AMIEL – and five other top writers – tackle the thorny question of what age women enjoy sex the most

  • Six UK writers reflect on what stages of their lives they found sex to be the best 
  • READ MORE: The recipe for great sex: Scientists reveal the three key elements for a passionate romp

At what age is sex best? Some women may say that their most enjoyable sex is behind them, the preserve of the limber, child-free days of their 20s, when everything was just that little bit perkier and the menopause had yet to wreak havoc on their libido.

Others would attest that the sex of their youth was hampered by insecurities and unsuitable partners, and that sex gets better only with age — if perhaps more infrequent.

In Dame Arlene Phillips’s case, she swears that, having recently celebrated her 80th birthday, ‘sex is as good as ever’.

‘Getting older doesn’t really change things,’ she said in a recent interview. ‘Certainly in my life, whether it’s walking, swimming, running or sex, you can always get back on the bicycle!’

Here, we ask six writers at what age you really have the best sex . . .

Author Barbara Amiel (pictured), 82, has been married to her fourth husband, the former media mogul Conrad Black, for 31 years


Author Barbara Amiel, 82, has been married to her fourth husband, the former media mogul Conrad Black, for 31 years. She says:

I was 18 when I bashed my head repeatedly against the window of the car where I was having my first sexual encounter.

‘Eooow, aah, oooh,’ I shrieked, making such a noise my then-boyfriend was alarmed. Having grown up with a repressed mother who monitored BBC Children’s Hour in case anything was ‘too old for you’ (alas it never was), I had no idea of an orgasm’s delirious intensity — or indeed what it was.

By my late 20s, a failed marriage behind me, sex seemed the only physical activity worth doing. Despite this, I’d find myself on a circular bed with black satin sheets, having no idea how to make the most of this cheesy setting. I was passive as a piece of wet fish, even as newspaper articles described me as ‘exuding sexiness’.

During my 30s, after another failed marriage, I weathered men who wanted to blindfold me, to dress me up like a schoolgirl or demand that I wear a ghastly red lipstick for their oral stimulation.

Ever optimistic, I married once more in my early 40s — this time to a husband who preferred being a transatlantic bachelor. I had only the desperation of ‘reconciliation sex’. Divorce followed.

And so it was not until my mid-40s that I truly came sexually alive. Under the skilful hands of the men who bedded me, I finally learned how to give and receive pleasure.

This became a crazy, marvellous time of experimentation, fuelled by vaguely illegal aphrodisiacs. A magnificent Greek lover gave me confidence, and showed me how sex could last for hours rather than a quick 15 minutes.

At 49, my sex life was sizzling. The only shortfall was a sense that my bare legs were scarcely fault-free. I would cover them with fake tan, until I realised this camouflage remained on my date’s bed sheets.

Now at 82, after a successful fourth marriage of 31 years and counting, I can reflect sanely on my hormonal madness.

New partners are hellishly exciting, but reciprocal monogamy is no hardship if you really love each other. Then conjugal sex — even in your 80s — beats everything.


Lisa Hilton, 47, is the author of the erotic Maestra trilogy and has been married three times. She says:

Lisa Hilton (pictured), 47, is the author of the erotic Maestra trilogy and has been married three times

While there are many things I regret about my 20s — brown lipstick, failing to land a job at Vogue — the sex I had isn’t one of them. I applaud Arlene Phillips’s openness about her continuing enjoyment of sex in her 80s, but, as a woman in her late 40s, I disagree that sex improves with age.

Like it or not, women’s optimal reproductive age is between 19 and 30. As such, we are biologically programmed to want sex more when there is the strongest likelihood of getting pregnant.

Ovarian steroids, the hormones which regulate libido, peak in the 20s and decline progressively as we get older.

Combine maximum levels of testosterone, oestrogen and progesterone with boundless energy and the ability to look human after three hours’ sleep, and you have a recipe for unbridled and joyous lust.

In many ways, I feel that my generation was luckier than today’s young women when it comes to sex. We inherited the contraceptive Pill and the fruits of our mothers’ struggle for equal rights.

Magazines such as More, with its notorious Position Of The Fortnight, demystified the mechanics. Porn lived firmly on the top shelf at the newsagent rather than in every potential partner’s phone, and social media, with its menace of shaming or ghosting, hadn’t been invented.

I don’t know that the act itself was necessarily more physically satisfactory, but I have a vague memory of raw desire mattering more than technique.

‘Like it or not, women’s optimal reproductive age is between 19 and 30,’ says Lisa Hilton (pictured)

Since my friends and I met partners in real life, as opposed to online, the possibility of that unbeatable physical rush of sheer craving was always present.

If I had to pinpoint an age when sex was at its most sublime, I would say 27. I was single, had published my first book and felt thoroughly independent, confident and adventurous.

As my friends and I have grown older, sex has become fraught with anxiety, whether over fertility issues, body insecurity or commitment-phobic men.

In my 20s, I didn’t give such things a thought. Love and security might have been by-products of sex, but they weren’t the goal back then.

Ruefully, I have to admit that perhaps the best thing about sex in my 20s was the hope — I never took it too seriously because I always assumed there was plenty more to be had.


Author and journalist Petronella Wyatt, 55, says:

Author and journalist Petronella Wyatt, pictured, says that by your 50s, you should also know what you are doing, and what your body wants

When it comes to sex, youth can really do a woman in.

The tiny remark (‘Are you cuddlier than you were last month?’) that tortures you when you’re so close to the summit and then brings you crashing down.

The fear that he won’t call you in the morning. The fear that he will call you, but only to say goodbye dear, and Amen.

The cold, clammy realisation that you might have forgotten to take the Pill and won’t be able to reach a chemist in time to rectify your mistake.

In other words, all those thousand pricks and stings that maiden flesh and maiden hearts are heir to, in particular that funny thing called love, a malaise that can turn the greatest sexcapade into an embarrassing failure.

Now I’m in my 50s, all that has passed. How lovely to sit here in the shade, to paraphrase Maurice Chevalier, with none of the woes of younger maids. No star-crossed lover am I, but a cheerful floor walker in the general trading company of recreational pleasure.

And, horizontally speaking, you’re at your very best. Sex, like good food, doesn’t bear distractions — namely those that beset you when your hormones and emotions are raging.

Back then, anything that took place in bed was a potential rehearsal for marriage and children, meaning the moment the act was over you dissolved into an emotional quagmire. Did it count if he said I love you during orgasm? Why didn’t he say it afterwards?

Honestly, I wonder why I cared about all that. It’s a blessed relief not to. At my age, sex is less emotive. You can take it or leave it, with no expectations of a lifelong romance.

By your 50s, you should also know what you are doing, and what your body wants; no more embarrassed confusion, no self-delusion about the possible consequences.

If you don’t want to see the guy again, there’s no aggravation, just a simple goodbye.

And even if love sneaks through the door, the kind that goes on for evermore, today for evermore is shorter than before.

Yes, things are better when you finally step out of the Fountain of Youth. And yet . . . I cannot deny that the violins have been stilled. It’s sex, not making love.

Modern society sees relationships without the rose-tinted glasses of the past, which, combined with a decreased desire for commitment common to independent women past childbearing age, lends a more business-like air to proceedings.

Sometimes I think I’d like to see that old devil once again. I don’t hanker for the concertos of my youth, but a brief sonata might be rather nice.


Rowan Pelling, 55, was the editor of The Erotic Review and is married. She says:

Rowan Pelling, 55 (pictured), was the editor of The Erotic Review and is married. She says that, aged 55, she’s having the best sex of her life

The best sex in the world is always — to the love-dazed mind, in any case — the greatest sex you’re having right now.

Because nothing, at any age, is as immediate and overwhelming as that feeling of being intimately bonded to the person you adore. Why would you start comparing that moment of lovemaking to something you experienced 20 years ago?

This means that I can honestly say, aged 55, that I am having the best sex of my life. Because it seems miraculous to me that, contrary to everything I was led to believe, erotic bliss is just as pleasurable in midlife as when you were a fresh-faced 20-something.

In many ways, it’s even more delightful because you know your body far better and have mapped your sweet spots — something which can take a couple of decades if you’re a woman.

You’re also more likely to be settled into a relationship with a long-term partner who knows what you like — and vice versa — even if it takes a bit longer to reach the big O.

It’s easier at this stage of life to fearlessly gaze into one another’s eyes (amazing that something so simple can feel so challenging and complicated if a relationship isn’t secure) and be present.

Men can feel like they’re running away from something for half their lives and it’s wonderful when they suddenly stop fleeing and put down the barriers.

Having said all that, I must also admit that something has been lost along the way.

Rowan (pictured) says that ‘in many ways, it’s even more delightful because you know your body far better and have mapped your sweet spot’

I do miss the way I was turned on in an instant and could reach an erotic peak swiftly. When I was young, I never felt like my senses were dulled by alcohol and stress, and I rarely got UTIs.

So, if you’re just talking about the ‘best age for sex’ in terms of being like a purring modern sports car, then I’d say 33 — old enough to know your likes and dislikes, but young enough still to be at peak condition.

There’s also something thrillingly Darwinian about the way you’re driven by a deep-rooted urge to reproduce.

At that stage of my life I’d been married for six years (now it’s, gulp, 28) and was still in the first throes of crazy Shakespearean love with my husband, Angus, but we didn’t yet have children; I remember feeling I was totally at the mercy of my monthly cycle and rather liked it.

Despite this, I wouldn’t go back to that stage of life. Older lovemaking is more like driving a 1930s Bentley — it takes longer to crank up, but once going you’re the envy of everyone on the road.


Author Jane Green, 55, has been married to her second husband for 14 years. She says:

Author Jane Green, 55, has been married to her second husband for 14 years. She opens up about getting over her ‘menopausal hump’

There are many things about sex at the age of 55 that are wonderful — comfort in your skin, no insecurities about your body, and the pleasure of intimacy with someone whose body you know as well as your own.

If only the menopause hadn’t raised its ugly head, sending our libidos, or at least my libido, plummeting to almost nothing.

I’m thrilled that Dame Arlene Phillips is still having a great sex life at 80, and am very much looking forward to reaching 80 and discovering that my own can still be great.

Frankly, I’m hoping to get there by 60, or at least whenever I finally get over this menopausal hump that has me wanting nothing other than a cup of tea and a good book when I get into bed.

Why didn’t anyone tell me about the libido drop during the menopause? All I knew to expect were hot flushes, night sweats, and a bit of irritability. No one told me how old I would feel, nor that my waistline would go AWOL, taking my libido with it.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy sex once we get going — it’s just that it never ever occurs to me to get going. Things that do occur to me once I am in bed are reading, pointless scrolling through Instagram for hours, perhaps a FaceTime with a friend and occasionally snacks.

Things that don’t occur to me? Sex. It didn’t used to be like this.

When I first met my husband, almost 18 years ago aged 37, after my first marriage had ended, we were insatiable.

But raising an army of small children soon got in the way, and just as those offspring were getting ready to fly the nest, the menopause hit.

I am now about five years into the menopause, and there are so many things I was unprepared for, not least how it can affect a healthy sex life.

But happily, I have learned that with everything in life, this too shall pass.

I’m very hopeful that as I come down on the other side of this menopausal mountain, my libido will return. My husband is very hopeful, too.


Author Kathy Lette, 64, has been married twice. She says:

 Author Kathy Lette, 64, has been married twice. She says that truly mind-blowing sex is about feeling comfortable in your skin, knowing what you want and not being afraid to ask for it

Grrrr. . . What’s that growling noise? Can you hear it? It took me a while to realise that the sound is actually originating from Yours Truly, as I purr at passing men.

I loathe the term ‘cougar’, but it’s definitely true that turning 60, or should that be sexty, is the most sexually liberating time of a woman’s life.

Females are brought up to be decorative and demure people-pleasers. I have girlfriends who fake orgasm so as not to appear impolite. But the joy of being post-menopausal is that we no longer give a damn about what other people think of us.

Truly mind-blowing sex is about feeling comfortable in your skin, knowing what you want and not being afraid to ask for it.

Which is why I believe women enjoy the best sex of their lives in their 60s.

With the rocket fuel of HRT, women my age are feeling younger, fitter, healthier, happier and, dare I say it, hornier than ever.

We’re still agile enough to swing from a chandelier and fit enough to perform the entire Kama Sutra. Nor do we take ourselves too seriously while doing so.

Just because a woman can hide the engorgement of her libidinous organ, does not mean she isn’t keen to enjoy its supple hydraulics.

As young women we longed to meet the right man.

But, aged 60, a woman may find herself thinking ‘Have I had enough wrong ones?’

Plus, once your offspring finally fly the nest, we have so much more time for orgasmic pursuits.

Of course, having a younger boyfriend also helps!

When did you have the best sex of your life? Send us your stories to [email protected]

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