There are roughly 80 million Americans who came of age in the revolutionary era of free love in the ’60s and ’70s. Premarital sex, and drugs were just something you did, regardless of the conservative views of your parents.
About a third of Baby Boomers are now single, divorced, widowed, or never married at all. While the drugs and rock ’n’ roll part of the past may have stayed in the 70s, sex and desire certainly did not.
Match.com reports that 50-plus is the site’s fastest-growing demographic. And according to a survey on its sister site for older daters, OurTime.com, 87 percent of 50- to 70-year-old single users say that physical attraction is a “must have” for a potential partner.
“There is much more permission to have more than one relationship” in a lifetime, says Cambridge sex therapist Gina Ogden, Ph.D. and author of The Return of Desire. “You no longer see the 55-year-old in a brown cardigan and sensible shoes mourning the fact that he or she would never have a relationship again.”
Baby Boomers are experimenting and exploring. Megan Andelloux, founder of the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, says that many boomers stopping into the center come asking about sexual orientation, like the widower and father of three who “knew he was going to die soon,” Andelloux remembers, “but had always known that he wanted to be with another man.” He wanted to learn how to put on a condom correctly because he had never been taught. “People tend to realize in their late 40s that they aren’t having the type of sex they want,” Andelloux says, “and so they reach out to the center to make that happen.”
Sexual exploration after 50 can mean understanding the effects of an illness or surgery. Many Boomers are also learning how to feel comfortable in their own skin, regardless of how it may have changed. With breast and testicular cancer as a fact of life for some, having a conversation on sharing the information that they may only have one breast or other health concerns is an unexpected part of sexual activity.
Another concern, STD rates among boomers are on the rise. Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that between 2000 and 2010, cases of some STDs, like gonorrhea and chlamydia, nearly tripled among those 50 and older. CDC research has found that one-fifth of all people living with HIV in the United States are older than 55.
A Harvard Medical School study, meanwhile, suggested that men older than 50 were six times less likely to use protection than men in their 20s. Pepper Schwartz, a Seattle sexologist and the author of Dating After 50 for Dummies, says that boomers aren’t any less ambitious about relationships than they used to be; they just frame them a little differently. “Emotion is still at the forefront,” she says. “No one is looking for someone to compromise with — they’re looking for love and compatibility.” That said, since many men if given the chance, choose younger women, women have been inspired to look “in different categories,” Schwartz says — career women with blue-collar guys, for example, or interracial and inter-religious pairings. This can translate to better relationships and better sex.
Sex among Boomers isn’t only for the newly single though, among married Boomers, surveys find that the vast majority of older men and women believe sex is important and maintain an active sex life. A majority of them are willing, if not eager, to see what they can do to continue to be sexually active for as long as possible.