Her day has been long and arduous — a 12-hour stint at work, followed by cooking dinner, stacking the dishwasher, doing the laundry, catching up on paperwork and walking the dog.
So it may come as a surprise to other women her age that, when 52-year-old Hayley Garbutt falls into bed at midnight, she has just one thing on her mind: not sleep, but making passionate love to her husband, Maurice, 54.
For, despite the demands of her busy life, not a single day goes by when Hayley, a mother of three and grandmother of four, does not want — and have — sex.
The menopause did not dampen her desire, nor did the rigours of caring for her children. Contrary to common belief, Hayley says she is living proof that middle-aged women can enjoy soaring sexual desire more usually associated with twentysomethings.
Hayley Garbutt, 51, has sex every day – three times a day when they both have a day off work together – with her (second) husband of 10 years Maurice (pictured together)
Indeed, on days when neither she nor Maurice have to go to work, they often make love three times and, far from it being at his instigation, Hayley invariably makes the first move. ‘I love sex and, despite the myth that women my age aren’t interested, I’m always in the mood,’ says Hayley, from Hunmanby, North Yorkshire.
‘I still fancy the pants off Maurice. When I get into bed at the end of the day I can’t resist him.’
Care assistant Hayley’s sensuality contrasts starkly with the results of a study which revealed that a third of women in Britain have little or no interest in sex.
Researchers at Glasgow University analysed the answers of more than 12,000 women and men quizzed for the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. All were asked if they had noticed a lack of interest in sex for at least three months during the past year. While 29.1 per cent of them said they had, this was most common among those in midlife and older, when hormone levels and libido are often affected by the menopause.
Little wonder, then, that Hayley’s insatiable appetite for sex is a source of fascination to friends, who often ask how she keeps the sexual flame burning so brightly.
Women are often accused of using a headache as an excuse to avoid intimacy. To the amusement of her girlfriends, Hayley does the exact opposite.
‘If Maurice and I happen to have the same weekday off, I’ll send my friends a message saying I can’t meet them because I have ‘a headache’, then we spend the morning in bed making love,’ she says, laughing.
‘I have a higher libido than my husband, who’s always saying: ‘I don’t know where you get your energy from!’ ‘
Even more extraordinarily, theirs is not a sexual bounce of some new-found love affair. Hayley and Maurice first dated more than three decades ago, in their late teens, when he was a dairy farmer and she was a waitress. They have a daughter together, now aged 33.
They split up in their 20s and Hayley, who says Maurice was ‘too possessive’ then, went on to marry someone else and have two more children. After that marriage broke down, she and Maurice — also by then divorced — began dating again.
That was a decade ago, and they have now been married for six years. So, while theirs is not a whole-life partnership, in which desire can be difficult to sustain, the Garbutts are certainly past the honeymoon period, during which a heady mix of hormones and pheromones keep passion ignited.
Hayley admits her high sex drive means she notices other attractive men, but she has remained solidly faithful to Maurice, as she did her first husband, with whom she also had a busy sex life.
She insists monogamy need not stop any middle-aged woman feeling sexual excitement.
‘I’ve known friends who have had one-night stands for a new thrill, but I think you have to find that thrill within your relationship,’ says Hayley. ‘Rather than doing the same thing in bed every day, we like to be a bit adventurous.’ So could variety be the Garbutts’ secret?
This, together with a deep and lasting mutual attraction, certainly plays a part, according to Hayley. She says she’d worry Maurice would not find her so alluring if they were intimate only once a week — a frequency still above the national average, for all ages, of three times a month.
Hayley says Maurice’s appearance helps. ‘He dresses well. Even if we’re just going out for a bar meal he will put on a nice shirt and a smart pair of shoes because he likes to look good,’ she says. ‘It would put me off if he didn’t take care of himself.
‘I also love to feel his arms around me, to snuggle into his bare chest, and the smell of his aftershave — he mixes two colognes together —which evokes memories of when we were together as teenagers.’
But what about the reality of an ageing body? Surely it’s hard to feel sexy when previously pert becomes distinctly droopy?
Not for Hayley, it seems: ‘There’s no doubt that our bodies change as we get older. But if you’re in a loving relationship, your partner, who has no doubt changed over time too, will see beyond that.
‘It’s also important to give each other compliments. Maurice often tells me I look lovely when I put a nice dress on or do something different with my hair. But friends who don’t have much sex with their husbands tell me they are rarely complimented on their appearance.’
Helen Robinson, 56, (pictured) who ended a long-term relationship a year ago partly due to her partner’s interest in sex waning while her own ardor was undiminished
Janice Hiller, a consultant clinical psychologist and sexologist, agrees that, while it’s unusual for women to stay as highly sexed as Hayley into their 50s, the couple’s habit of praising each other’s appearance is likely to be a big factor in keeping the passion alive.
‘It’s rare for women over 50 to want sex daily — women’s libido tends to fall as they get older and levels of testosterone, the hormone that helps maintain sexual desire, reduce,’ says Janice. ‘But different people have different needs, whether that’s for food, exercise or sex, and some women are at the higher end of the spectrum.
‘Feeling desired tends to be much more important to women than men, which is why they like their partners to give them compliments. Feeling wanted, in turn, boosts a woman’s own desire.’
This is certainly true for Carol El Hawary, 54, director of planning for an education company. Her first marriage, sexless in its later years, ended in May 2016. Then she met Atef, 49, owner of a hotel and travel agency, while she and her sister were on holiday in Egypt in 2014.
So smitten were the pair — he particularly loves her Celtic red hair — that, within six months, she had left her home in Scotland, her job in risk management at a large bank, and joined him in Cairo. They’re now married and she divides her time between the UK and Egypt.
Whenever they’re together, the couple make love daily, something Carol admits is largely due to her unquenchable desire.
‘I would like to have sex several times a day, though most days I don’t get the opportunity, because of work,’ she says. ‘We’re led to believe that, unlike men, women don’t think about sex a lot, but I do. My husband turns me on physically, so whenever I think about him I think about sex.’
She continues: ‘He doesn’t have as high a sex drive as me. He thinks he does but there are times when I would make love and he won’t because he’s too tired, or stressed about work.
‘But Atef, who is Muslim, thinks it’s great I have such a high sex drive. Islam has a much healthier attitude towards intimacy than Christianity. As long as you’re married, you’re encouraged to have a good sex life.’
On nights when staffing problems mean Atef has to stay overnight at his hotel, Carol doesn’t let this come between them. She visits him there — a bedroom is set aside for senior managers — even if she faces an early start the next day.
Before having a hysterectomy eight years ago, Carol suffered from endometriosis, a painful condition that causes excessive vaginal bleeding, which prevented her from having children but didn’t diminish her desire.
Still, as a young woman, she worried her high libido meant there was something ‘wrong’ with her.
‘Part of the reason I thought I was abnormal to want so much sex is that, as a society, we don’t talk about these things,’ says Carol.
‘I’ve since read a lot on this subject and know that any suggestion a high female sex drive is odd is actually nonsense. In fact, the older I get the more furious I get about women, unlike men, feeling that having a high sex drive makes them strange.’
It’s notable that Carol’s desire has survived the changes ageing has brought: ‘Getting older obviously gives you new things to obsess over when it comes to your body. I’m overweight, for example, and worry about my flabby stomach.
‘But this is another thing I love about Atef — he’s always made me feel totally beautiful. This improves our sex life no end — I know I’m not being judged for my body. Don’t let the lumps and bumps put you off having great sex.’
While Carol and Atef send each other suggestive texts, they have no need for ‘novelty’ in the bedroom to fuel their attraction. ‘We don’t need fluffy handcuffs or different clothes to keep things interesting,’ says Carol. ‘Sometimes it’s over quickly, and sometimes it’s not. That tends to depend on him and how tired he’s feeling.’
Carol —who is ‘not a morning person’ — rarely has sex on her mind first thing, but come the evening, or when she wakes in the middle of the night, and her need to make love is profound. Each intimate encounter leaves her feeling physically and emotionally high, ‘warm and glowing’, something she puts down to the release of the hormone oxytocin.
Janice Hiller supports her theory and agrees a regular sex life brings significant health benefits, for both women and men, by increasing pleasure chemicals and reducing those that cause stress. ‘During sex our bodies release more oxytocin, the bonding and stress-reducing hormone, and dopamine, which is the reward, pleasure and drive chemical,’ says Janice. ‘It also reduces levels of the stress chemical, cortisol.
‘Research on men, has shown that those who have regular orgasms are less likely to have heart attacks. There aren’t really any downsides.’
Mismatched libidos were, however, a major issue for Helen Robinson, 56, who ended a long-term relationship a year ago partly due to her partner’s interest in sex waning while her own ardor was undiminished.
To avoid a repeat of this, instead of looking for another man her own age, Helen made her first foray into the world of online dating, with the deliberate intention of meeting men in their 30s, and even 20s.
Carol El Hawary, pictured with her husband Atef at their wedding. ‘We don’t need fluffy handcuffs or different clothes to keep things interesting,’ says Carol. ‘Sometimes it’s over quickly, and sometimes it’s not. That tends to depend on him and how tired he’s feeling’
She believes that they are more likely to have libidos matching her own.
The chef, from South London, makes it clear on her dating profile that she is interested in a sexual, not a committed, relationship, and often dates three men at a time, seeing them on different nights.
‘Ideally I would have sex every day, three times a day when I’m not working,’ says Helen.
‘When I first met my ex he was very similar to me, but, by the time we separated, I was lucky if he was up for it once a month.
‘It makes you feel very vulnerable when you want a sexual connection with someone who no longer wants one with you.
‘Sex is energizing and fun — it can be wild, fierce, tender. Being desired is a delicious feeling but I think people wrongly assume that post-menopausal women aren’t interested in sex because most of us moderate our behavior to fit in with society’s expectations.
‘The men in my life now know they are not my one and only.’
But Helen is keen to stress that climbing into bed is not the only thing she wants to do on a date, many of which begin in an art gallery, or the pub, chatting about literature and cooking.
Helen has been seeing one man for ten months, while other couplings have fizzled out, sometimes because the men are looking for a more serious relationship.
But what, one wonders, do these young men see in a woman who, while still attractive and in good shape thanks to exercising five times a week, is in her sixth decade?
‘I realize there’s social stigma around this, so I often ask the men I date: ‘What’s attractive to you about being with an older woman?’ ‘ says Helen.
‘I’m told it’s because fiftysomething women, like me, tend to be more confident about what we want, and are happy to say it, which men find very appealing.
‘We’re also less hung up on what people think about us.’
On the subject of judgment, what do Helen’s friends make of her passion? ‘Some of them are surprised and ask: ‘Where do you find the energy?’ ‘ she says.
‘I was embarrassed at first to tell them I was dating younger men, but they’ve mostly said: ‘That’s great.’ ‘
Still, Helen is sure that, ultimately, she will want another monogamous, long-term relationship, probably with someone close to her own age, with whom she is likely to have more in common.
However, one thing is certain: next time around, Helen will ensure that, like Hayley and Carol, she settles down with a man whose sexual appetite remains as insatiable as her own.
Is your marriage full of midlife passion? If so, what is your secret to keeping the spark alive?
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