From Diapers To Dating Apps: Pleasure, Polyamory, And Sex After 40
For my 40th birthday, I threw an intimate house party. My husband made a roast pork belly. My boyfriend brought balloons. We ate, drank, danced, and laughed. Everyone had a blast.
At the age of 40, I am a polyamorous woman in an open marriage. I play the roles of wife (14 years), mother (9 years), sexual adventurer (6 years), and girlfriend (2,5 years). If you’d asked me at 20, then 30, if I’d ever pictured myself like this at 40, I would have said you were crazy.
I find myself in an unusual position compared to my peers. At 40, I’m firmly entrenched in the “married with two or three kids” zone of life — where the point so often seems to be maintaining equilibrium, rather than pushing boundaries. In this zone, life is designed for security, stability, and routine, not novelty, variety, and exploration.
Don’t get me wrong: this is a sweet spot. After all, I survived the isolating cocoon/seismic identity shift of new motherhood. I got my mojo back (even if my pre-childbirth body is lost forever), unpaused my career, lost and made friends, and navigated the most demanding, labor-intensive toddler and preschool years with my sanity intact.
While the other women around me went on to have second, third or even fourth babies, I emerged from the chaos into the equilibrium so many of us would kill for.
What I chose to do with this equilibrium was to explore sex. While the other mothers scrambled to fill career gaps, I chose to fill the pleasure gap.
Owning My Choices and Loving It
I agitated for sexual variety and adventure, which led to the opening of my marriage in my mid-30s. For the first two years, my husband and I sailed on rough waters; non-monogamy was a wild horse that could have thrown either of us off its back and broken us.
In year three of our open marriage, the distant shores of stability and normalcy came into view. In year four, we pulled into a safe harbor, past the choppy ups and downs beyond our comfort zone, into a zone of growth.
For me, a huge, valuable part of being 40 is owning this choice without shame or guilt. I know this makes me different from the other wives or mothers, and I like it that way.
As far as I can see, I’m the only mom who’s still going clubbing on weekends (as a friend says: I can party like a 20 year-old, but I need to recover like a 40 year-old). I’m the only one dancing in queer spaces, planning threesomes, or attending Zoom sex parties during lockdown. If they are, they’re certainly not talking or writing about it.
I’m supposed to have gotten over clubbing and casual sex in my 20s, and leave Tinder to the 30somethings. But what exactly limits experiences to age brackets? Can’t I enjoy the experiences of my 20s and 30s now, when I’m finally confident, mature and responsible enough to handle them? What do we think women in our 40s should be doing anyway?
Balancing Curiosity and Commitment
The difference between pursuing pleasure, variety, freedom and adventure at 40 is this: now, my curiosity must be calibrated against my commitments.
My preferred method of growth is to put myself in an unusual, sometimes uncomfortable position. In the rush of new stimuli, I feel more alive, become more creative, and grow. But now, I have people in my life who depend on me, whom I promised to love and care for throughout all the seasons of their lives. I’ve committed to be whole and present for them; their lives are impacted by my choices.
I’m no longer acting for myself alone. Pursuing pleasure at 40 means walking the fine line between freedom and responsibility with every choice I make—sexual and otherwise.
Pushing Boundaries VS Recognizing Limits
My appetite for new experiences also needs to be calibrated against the limits of my physical body. As my fluctuating hormones prepare to wind down my fertile years, my body seems to be changing faster than ever.
Concrete example: I love mesh lingerie and nylon stockings. But steadily decreasing estrogen levels make me more prone to yeast infections, particularly when I wear synthetic underwear for more than a couple of hours.
This pussy can’t wear the cheap stuff anymore; if I do, it must be ripped off immediately.
Recognizing physical limits allows me to embrace the changes in my body: letting the white streak in my hair grow out, not being distressed by the sunspots on the back of my hands, and accepting my thickening waistline and the pull of gravity on my breasts as normal, even beautiful.
It means looking at the girls sweating their asses off in Barre Booty, desperately preparing for bikini season, and deciding: that’s a 20 year-old’s game, and I’m not playing it anymore. Not when I bring other things to the table—or the bedroom.
Confidence Beyond Looks
Being 40 brings a confidence that is beyond just skin deep. For me, real confidence comes from being vocal about my boundaries, desires and needs, and trusting that the people in my life will love me anyway. It comes from being intimately acquainted with my own quirks, weaknesses and limitations to help those I love navigate around them. It comes from knowing that I bring enough to the table to make me a partner worth having—whether it’s for a night, a season, or a lifetime.
It also comes from the courage to have tough conversations, the willingness to listen and be patient, and the capability to be perfectly happy hearing no. Polyamory has given me a lot of practice doing that.
At the beginning of my open marriage, that meant saying to my husband: I need an outlet for my desire for intense experiences, sexual variety and adventure. I know that’s hard to give. What can I/we do to make that easier for you? What do you need from me in return? (I’m oversimplifying, of course. Adulting conversations are never that easy.)
When I lost the taste for casual sex and began wanting deeper, more fulfilling connections, I had to advocate for my own needs and desires once more, by saying: I’ve had casual experiences that have left me feeling unfulfilled and unsafe. Can I see certain people more regularly? What do you need for that to feel safer for you?
Contemplating a deeper relationship with a casual lover, I stated my boundaries: I can’t sleep over, or spend as much time with you as you might need or want. I can’t move in with you, buy a house with you, marry you or bear your children. Knowing all that, I still see a lot is possible for us. Do you want to explore that with me? Again, I’m oversimplifying here, but it worked. The casual lover became my boyfriend of 2,5 years, and we still have so much more to explore.
What were you expecting to hear?
Maybe this isn’t what you were expecting to read about sex after 40. Maybe you wanted to hear scandalous stories from a woman in a six-year open marriage, with a husband, boyfriend and multiple casual lovers (Don’t worry, I’m writing a memoir).
But for me, sex after 40 really is about all this other stuff. Otherwise, it’s just body parts and friction. As a result, sex at 40 is more nuanced and thoughtful, which makes me more conscious and selective, which makes my sexual experiences hotter, more intense, and more fulfilling. Sex on my terms. Sex as I want it to be.
So far, I hear no complaints from my sexual partners. In fact, they think it’s pretty awesome.
Maybe the best part of sex after 40 is that adventure has become experience, and experience has become instinct.
From where I sit, all the tough conversations, mistakes and learnings, have helped me shape a life where I can navigate sex, intimacy and relationships by instinct, free of internal conflict, guilt or shame. Flying on my instincts and seeing them proven true feels more deeply satisfying than any orgasm.
And I think at age 40, that is truly fabulous.
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