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Putting the Sex in Sexagenarian

Dispelling the myth that baby boomers’ best sexual days are behind them.

With baby boomers having led the sexual revolution during the “free love” era of the 1960s and 1970s, sex is naturally seen by many of them as a kind of fountain of youth. “Sex was the hallmark of this generation’s adolescent rebellion, and later on, a part of the women’s movement we spearheaded,” wrote sexologist Pepper Schwartz, adding that boomers were instrumental in making sex acceptable in popular culture and playing an important role in the gay civil rights movement. Schwartz and others are on a mission to help boomers navigate the sexual landscape as they age, not an easy thing for some. While surveys show that boomers of each gender subscribe to the idea that sex is vital and tend to remain active in that part of life (most older people believe sexuality is a key dimension of their relationships with their respective significant others), a variety of physical and emotional issues can make things difficult. It is not unusual for interest in sex to wane among women who are older than 50, for instance, and no product equivalent to those targeted at men’s ED has yet to appear in the market.

“So,” Schwartz continues, “older adults, the same people who sparked and maintained a sexual revolution, are having to reinvent themselves again.” Many boomers are recommitting themselves to sex, not about to give up on one of the best things in life because of physical or social challenges. About a third of the 65 million or so boomers are currently unmarried, making sex with new partners a part of the dating scene. Many boomers are caregivers to their elderly parents, but this sometimes serves as a way for them to meet new people. Hanging out at one’s parents’ nursing home has become the 21st-century version of the single’s bar, as members of the sandwich generation hook up with each other in between caring for their mom or dad. Reconnecting with one’s high school sweetheart via Facebook also is not unusual among single boomers, and some divorced couples are redefining their relationship as “friends with benefits.” Married boomer couples face different issues when it comes to sex. Fifty- and 60-somethings are flocking to sex therapists, seeking ways to keep romance in their lives after being married for a quarter-century.

For some boomers, however, sex is way better now than it was while grooving to Marvin Gaye or Donna Summer. A few decades of experience, sometimes with many partners, has made sexagenarians live up to that term. Besides having learned some interesting positions over the years, sometimes with help from the Kama Sutra, older adults are less embarrassed to reveal their likes and fantasies to their lovers. Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra have of course revolutionized sex for older men and their partners. Plus, sex is now a lot more open than it was around the Bicentennial thanks to cable TV and the Internet, making certain activities that were then considered somewhat taboo perfectly normal. Bisexuality too has come out of the closet over the past 40 years, opening up new sexual options for those who are so inclined. Sexual fluidity is virtually the new norm, in fact, as Gen Xers and millennials broke down the straight-or-gay barrier that had been in place for a very long time. Boomers, both men and women, are generally keen on pushing their respective sexual envelopes, interested in new and different experiences rather than the same old same old. The steamy bestseller Fifty Shades of Gray was a tipping point of sexuality, making many readers want to bring the explicitly erotic scenes in the novel to their own real-life bedrooms.

Patty Brisben, the founder of Pure Romance (“the world’s leading and fastest-growing woman-to-woman direct seller of relationship-enhancement products”), has a deep understanding of the relationship between age and sexuality. While for some boomers a robust sex life may remind them of their youth, Brisben sensibly argues that people become “better” as they age, including their approach to and practice of sexuality. “Through experience, older adults develop a complete sexual road map than their younger counterparts,” she wrote in her blog for the Huffington Post’s Post 50, with a greater understanding of not just one’s own body but others. Less inhibition, especially among women, and a relaxing of the standard of beauty defined by youth are just a couple of factors that make sex a lot more interesting for boomers than it is for 20somethings. A new kind of confidence and comfort in one’s own skin allows many older women to let it all hang out, so to speak, in the bedroom, Brisben and other sexologists report, a wonderful thing. And rather than having been-there-done-that intercourse, many couples who have been in long-term committed relationships will tell you that sex is better than ever, a function of the emotional and physical closeness they share with their partner.

There are other good reasons to dispel the myth that boomers’ best sexual days are behind them. For women, being post-menopausal means there’s no chance of getting pregnant, one less thing to worry about if that’s an issue. And if the kids are (finally) out of the house, there’s more opportunity for spontaneous sex—the kind of sex couples used to have before the kids arrived. Romance too is often revived for empty nesters, further enhancing the sex lives of luckier baby boomers.

More from Lawrence R. Samuel Ph.D.
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