Are you an ageist when it comes to sex?

If you judge other women’s sexual potency by how old they are, it’s time to stop limiting yourself and the women around you, says Dorothy Black.

maiden, mother, crone – less ‘three distinct ages of woman’ and more ‘three expressions of being at any age’. this pic is a detail of a painting by the fantastic illustrator jeffrey catherine jones.

A well-known 50-something sex counsellor once tweeted something along the lines of: There is so much child porn on Tumblr it’s eye-opening and disgusting.

There was an attached link.

I considered that link for a while. I had zero interest in having this imagery seared onto my brain. But I’m on Tumblr – an image-based micro-blogging site – a lot for its great selection of erotica and I’d never come across any ‘child porn’. Had I missed something? I decided to click.

What horror flashed before my eyes?

Gentle erotica and nudes featuring women in their 20s. They were not ‘children’ by any stretch of the imagination.

Was the age gap between this counsellor and these young women too wide for her to see them as anything but girls? What I saw were young women who are part of a formidable shift in erotica away from homogenised yawn-porn and taking the medium into new areas of gender and sexual expression.

The counsellor’s reaction seemed to demean their sexual power, simply because they were younger than her.

In the same week that I started writing this, another woman in her 50s aimed a viral Facebook rant at a clothing retailer, calling its 20-something model a ‘child’ incapable of ‘[invoking] goddess energy’ in all its sexual power. What?

We judge harshly any tribe that sits upwind or downwind from our age bracket

Of course, this ageism isn’t the domain of ‘the older woman’. All you need do is track what youth-obsessed media makes of women as sexually expressive as Madonna. And any woman over the age of 25 is now a MILF (thanks teen dude-bro porn), a cougar, a TV trope.

Every decade in pop culture is frilled with sexually hopeful adjectives – the dirty thirties, the naughty forties, the fiery fifties – in a bid to ward off the apparently inevitable decline of sexual vigour.

The abiding myth is that sexual potency is connected to an age group: either youth for its prettiness or age for its experience. And because we’re defensive little primates, we judge harshly any tribe that sits upwind or downwind from our age bracket: ‘What do “children’ know?” or ‘How gross/cute are “old people” tryna get sexy?’

Wouldn’t it be nice to be less limiting to our younger and older selves?

It’s said that sex gets ‘better’ with age. But this is only true for those who have learned from experience to let go of expectations and insecurities; who’ve learned to communicate well and found pleasure in their bodies; who have detached themselves from society’s stereotypes – everything that younger women, who don’t have the benefit of time, might still be struggling with.

Women of all ages would do well to critically examine how they bracket female sexuality in terms of age. After all, what does a sexually potent woman look like? How does she live? How does she sound? How does she treat herself and other women?

My guess is that if you’re in your sexual power, whatever your age, there is no reason to compare or belittle, upwind or down.

This column was first published on W24…