Sex and the Seasoned Woman
Sex among boomers - especially women - is becoming mainstream
By Candace Murphy.
Sex, as a wise man once said, sells.
But not just any sex.
Today, sex over the age of 50 as experienced by women, is what's selling.
Take that wise man.
Books, like Gail Sheehy's just published and highly anticipated, "Sex and the Seasoned Woman" are flying of printing presses and being tossed into the open, waiting arms of feverish women intent on continuing their pursuit of the passionate life. Also on the syllabus are Alice Mc Dermott's short stories, "Enough". In which the adult children of an older woman are astonished she still enjoys a roll in the hay and Joan Price's "Better than Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty".
Hollywood, too is on board. "Something's Gotta Give" (2003) and "Meet the Folkers" (2004) revealed that older men aren't the only ones who are still randy, but that their female counterparts, played respectively by Diane Keaton and Barbra Straisand, are as well.
"Swimming Pool" from 2003 is another and featured a nude scene with Charlotte Rampling. who was 58 at the time. Also from 2004 is "The Door in the Floor" which had both Kim Basinger then 50, and Mimi Rogers, who turns 50 this month, in sexy scenes. Formerly a subject matter and visual image that had people shielding their eyes and saying, "Ewwww", the idea that older women do in fact have libidos has finally gone mainstream.
Blame it on the baby boomers: A generation spawned between 1946 and 1964 is tilting the average American age past the half century mark.
The net effect isn't just that these boomers are older, though. It's that their lifestyles, their interests and their sexual peccadilloes, have migrated into mainstream entertainment.
"We shouldn't have seen this coming from 60 years away". says pop culture professor Robert Thompson of Syracuse University. "In the last several years, just as there was no ignoring the baby boomers from the day they were born, there will be no ignoring them till the day they die. There's just so many of them. And we're beginning to see the cultural reflections that these people are still relevant".
Though it may seem as if Hollywood, at least has been through this before - Hello, Mrs Robinson? - the truth is that Anne Bancroft was only 36 when she was playing a sexually starved wife and mother of a teenage daughter in "The Graduate". Recently, in fact, the unclothed older woman was included in movies merely as a gag, such as Kathy Bates' hot tub scene in 2002's "About Schmidt".
Things didn't have to turn out this way, though. This latest crop of film and novels might be different had the boomer generation sported a different personality. Had the generation been reserved, had it been reverential of its elders, its quite likely that Barbra Streisand wouldn't have played Roz Focker, a sex therapist specializing in senior sexuality and teaching sexual yoga positions.
Instead, the baby boomers generation was defined by its need for rebellion. and its women - 1.5 million female boomers who will turn 60 this year - were brought up thinking sexual pleasure was their right. Bras were burned, birth control pills were popped, and free love was the going mantra.
This was a generation that grew up with a raging case of entitlement - its a generation says Thompson, 46, a late boomer herself. "And its not only the first generation that refuses to grow old. It may be the first that refuses to die. They gave up red meat for healthy red wine, they turned health and fitness into a huge industry. Even when boomers got to the point where they'd have a potential slowdown in libido, by gosh, you have Viagra waiting in the wings so you can party like it's 1969".
It's likely that a few years from now - when society is inured in the shock of realizing there i sex after middle age - Sheehy's new book will be considered emblematic of the era. That's the opinion of Carole Shattil, a professional matchmaker and founder of CheckMates Inc. In the Bay Area, who was used as a source for Sheehy's book. After reading the finished product, Shattil likens the book's impact on popular thinking to that of Susan Faludi's "Backlash" in the 80's.
"Gail's book is so important because it shows how values are shifting in how men think and how women think when it comes to sexuality and aging", says Shattil, who will only describe her own age as being in the very late 40's.
"Men and especially women aren't aging like their parents or mothers did. That's where the fight comes in. Like modern burning of bras. They've maintained their identities to continue to be those strong willed, independent, vibrant people. They're taking advantage of it and really going for it".
Shattil has first-hand experience in seeing women, and men, of a certain age continuing to go for i. Her online dating service (checkmatesinc.com) is most popular in the 30 - 60 year old demographic, and has noticeably skewed to an older age in recent years. She equates the aging of the dating scene to the aging of pop culture; the two are reflections of each other.
"There are more people in their 50s that are dating than I've ever seen, " says Shattil. "But that's not all. I got a phone call last week from a woman who wanted to fix up her mother who was in here 70s. She was healthy, vibrant, athletic. Normally in years past, I'd never take a call like that. I'd think , Oh my goodness, you just don't go there, but it's changing what these people do and who they are and how vibrant they are at an older age."
Not everyone is wild about baby boomers having sex and having to hear about it, too. An amateur reviewer in her late 20's on the Web site GreenCine.com a West coast DVD rental community for the "alternative scene" warned potential viewers of "Something's Gotta Give," While the movie is heart warming and lent a few giggles and gross outs (prepare for old people nudity), I really couldn't relate to the movie".
Teenagers have always been disgusted, and always will be disgusted, that their parents are sexually active,\" says Thompson, the professor. "That's OK. They should be disgusted. But at the same time, there's the idea that Hollywood and the novel are beginning to acknowledge that in an era when the life span is above 70, the peaking at 30 is not necessarily how we should be looking at things."
An ancillary effect of these changing social mores portends big changes in social discussion; it may gently nudge a society that tends toward the rigidly conservative into being a little less prudish. Think of it as Roz Focker trying to get her son Greg Focker to loosen up a little and not be afraid to talk about (said in loud, hoarse whisper) S-E-X.
"Diaries used to have locks on them and now people brag about the number of hits their blog gets. The Oprah-fication of America is this let it all out attitude that really hit big in the '60s when the boomers were growing up." says Thompson." "For the most part, that's a good thing, being more open in our communication, being able to talk about relationships, and that dating and sexuality do continue to be an important part of life past age 25. It helps take away that stigma.
And really, when it comes down to it, this was all inevitable.
"Hey, baby boomers were not going to go gently into the night of middle age," says Thompson. "They'd simply redefine it. Fifty may be the new 30 today, but I have every confidence that 90 will someday be the new 30."