When I was a teenager living in Northwestern Connecticut in the late ‘60's, I clearly remember my mother expressing her disapproval of pre-marital sex. Who would have guessed that forty some years later, long after my father's death, she would decide to cohabit with her new partner without benefit of marriage? What's even more surprising is that they began dating while she was sharing a household with me, my husband, and our daughter. My husband and I had an open marriage, and grandma often babysat while we were attending polyamory conferences or flying to New York City to appear on talk shows.
Once, when her new partner went on a ski trip with his ex-wife, she attended a singles event where she was approached by a man who, after several dances, wanted to introduce her to his significant other who was waiting across the room. When he discovered that her daughter was the author of a popular book on polyamory, he was in seventh heaven and wrangled an invitation to dinner at our home. My mother ended up choosing the guy who insisted on remaining friendly with his ex-wife instead of joining a triad, but I found the whole situation indicative of a rapidly changing relationship landscape. These shifts are not limited to the younger generation!
AARP recently released data from a survey of 1670 people over age 44 which was conducted in 2009. One of the most striking findings was that only 22 percent of the respondents said that nonmarital sex was wrong. In a similar survey conducted in 1999, 41 percent said nonmarital sex was wrong. It's not clear whether these statistics apply only to single people having sex with each other, or whether they might also apply to married people having sex with people they're not married to, with or without the knowledge and consent of their partners. Either way, it appears that Americans are letting go of the idea that monogamous marriage is the only legitimate context for sex.
Another noteworthy finding from the AARP survey is that dating singles have sex more often than married couples, and they are more satisfied with their sexual experiences than married people. This runs contrary to what many people have been led to expect, but is consistent with the observations of sex therapists such as Esther Perel (Mating in Captivity, 2007) and Gina Ogden (Return of Desire, 2008) who find that replacing mystery and autonomy with predictability and a sense of ownership is not a prescription for good sex.
When it comes to retired folks, economics may be a powerful motivator for choosing nonmarital sex. The older generation is understandably reluctant to give up social security payments and other retirement benefits, or to risk depriving their children of the right to inherit their assets, for the sake of matrimony.
Since women in general outlive men, and since men often seek younger mates, the gender imbalance as people grow older may also prove to be a very practical incentive for increasing the acceptance multi-partner relationships among older heterosexuals.