When the results of a new AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll of the boomer generation about sex and relationships were released last month, the news media highlighted two seemingly contradictory findings, illustrated by these headlines:
- “Poll: Baby Boomers Sex Confident”
- “AP Poll Says Boomers Are Unhappy with Sex Lives”
The first story focused on the fact that the majority of people between the ages of 45 and 65 believe that they have “pretty much learned everything there is to know about sex.” The second article reported on the percentage of boomers who say they are “dissatisfied” with their sex lives. Nearly a quarter — 24 percent — of the 45-65 group said they were frustrated with their lovemaking (compared to 12 percent of 18-29 year olds and 17 percent of the 66-plus crowd).
Hmmm. I wonder if there’s a connection.
My first reaction — and I speak as a medical doctor who specializes in menopause care and hears about the sexual lives of boomer women on a daily basis — is that I don’t believe a person of any age can know everything there is to know about sex. In my experience, it’s hard for a person to understand her own sexuality — how her body works, what she really needs and wants — and impossible for her to know everything about her partner’s desires and expectations in the bedroom.
A closer look at the poll’s results reveals a significant gender gap around these findings in the 45-65 age group. While 59 percent of boomer women said they know all there is to know about sex, only 48 percent of their male counterparts share that level of confidence. On the other hand, 48 percent of men age 45-55 said that their partners don’t want to have sex as often as they do, while only 13 percent of women in that age group made the same complaint.
Sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who helped develop the questions for the poll, says that the most important issue the findings highlight is that men and women in this age group have very different expectations in bed.
“We worry so much about teens and sex, but this poll indicates a need for a call to action for this segment of the population to become more sexually literate,” she says. “It is not necessary for a couple to be in exact sexual synch, but if a couple’s appetites grow too far apart, then that indicates that there is not enough communication about sex in the relationship.”
Of course, communication is an essential component of satisfying sex. But I also wonder if what women who say they know everything there is to know about sex are really saying is that they’ve lost interest in sex as they know it. That the kind of stimulation that excited and satisfied them when they were younger no longer does the trick. Real “sexual literacy” for both women and men at midlife requires knowledge about how our bodies are changing and what we can do to help each other have physically and emotionally satisfying sex lives as we grow older.