FRENCHWOMEN (D'UN CERTAIN AGE)

French Women Don't Get Fat and Do Get Lucky

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By Pamela Druckerman
Sunday, February 10, 2008

PARIS

If I have to get old, I want to do it in Paris.

It's not because of the dank weather, the constant personal snubs or a fetish for unpasteurized cheese. It's because, quite frankly, I'd like to keep having sex.

In the United States, my odds would be grim. Through our 40s, we American women manage to arrange romps on a fairly regular basis. But the latest national statistics show that by our 50s, a third of us haven't had sex in the last year. By our 60s, nearly half have gone sexless in the previous year. Once we hit our 70s, most of us might as well hang up an "out of business" sign. (Needless to say, men fare much better.)

So much for the gym-bodied baby boomers who promised to make 60 the new 40, using Botox as an aphrodisiac. Among today's 50-plus women, the problem of sexlessness is as bad or worse than it was for older women two decades ago.

But not in France. Frenchwomen simply don't suffer from the same dramatic, post-40s slide into sexual obsolescence. Just 15 percent of Frenchwomen in their 50s and 27 percent in their 60s haven't had any sex in the past year, according to a 2004 national survey by France's Regional Health Observatory. Another national survey being released next month will report that cohabiting Frenchwomen over 50 are having more sex now than they did in the early 1990s.

Try not to hate them: Frenchwomen don't get fat, and they do get lucky.

The idea that older women are desirable goes right to the top. Before Nicolas Sarkozy hooked up with his new bride, 40-year-old Carla Bruni, a French magazine suggested some matches for the newly divorced president, including 50-ish TV presenters, writers and an extremely buff sailing champion. After all, Sarkozy, 53, had just been dumped by his then 49-year-old wife Cecilia, who had famously obsessed him and who had had no trouble finding other suitors.

This post-menopausal sexiness is palpable here. In the lingerie section of an upscale department store, I recently watched a gray-haired man earnestly inspecting the black lace bra and panties that his similarly aged companion had just picked out. "That's just what's needed," he clucked, handing his credit card to the clerk.

So why are older American women sitting around feeling bad about their necks, while their sisters across the ocean -- craggy necks or not -- are off being seduced?

For starters, Frenchwomen d'un certain âge have much better role models. Sure, Hollywood still employs a handful of preternaturally preserved actresses in their 50s and above. But even these women, such as Susan Sarandon, tend to be famous precisely because they've defied the laws of aging. And they're mostly denied unfiltered close-ups and romantic leads.

French cinema, however, is in the throes of a revival for 50-ish actresses, many of whom got their starts as fresh-faced teenagers in the early 1970s. These women aren't all airbrushed versions of their former selves, nor does the interest in them seem to be mostly nostalgic. "They have roles not as old women but as women. Which means they're still considered to be desirable," says Danièle Laufer, author of the book "50 Ans? Vous Ne Les Faites Pas" ("50 Years Old? You Don't Look It"). "Fifteen or 20 years ago, you wouldn't have seen this. I think they refuse to give up power."


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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