I have news for the 79 million baby boomers in America -- you're getting older, and you are no longer the "sex, drugs and rock and roll generation." You are the Viagra and "golden oldies" generation, and there are significant implications to this transformation. Yours is the first generation that will live well into their 80's and beyond, and given your "free-love" heritage, sex will continue to be important well into your golden years. My surveys of boomers reveal that 8 out of 10 men and 7 out of 10 women consider sex an important part of their lives. One woman, age 62, told me she found it inconceivable that having lived through the Woodstock years, she would give up her sexual freedom as her mom and grandmom did when approaching menopause. Many boomers are divorced or otherwise single, and many of this group are "on the prowl." My research and that of AARP and others show single boomers want regular sexual activity. But dating is problematic for those boomers who have been in long-term relationships. First, you often have a vision of the perfect partner, and at your age, that vision, frequently transformed by decades-out-dated fantasies and bi-focals, can lead to disappointment, and require a substantial adjustment in your expectations. More importantly, the rate of STDs among boomers has skyrocketed, as you were not programmed to be as careful as your kids. Whether still married or single, boomers may say they still want to have sex, but they also admit that it's often disappearing or missing in their relationships. This is due to several factors. Some are less sexually capable, which can strain a marriage and be an embarrassment if dating. Others feel their partner's aging has, frankly, made them less appealing. And still others, especially women, claim they never liked sex, but rather thought of it as a means of procreation. Fear not, fellow boomers. Regardless of your situation, if you were born lucky enough to be a boomer, I have some "Dr. Ruth-esque" advice that could not only power-boost your sex life, but life in general, well into the future:
- We know sexual activity leads to better health and longevity. But staying sexually active requires accommodations. We can overcome hormonal changes by being more emotionally intimate. I recommend shared music, small gifts, heartfelt notes (even emails), and words, candles and perhaps even risqué lingerie, but forget the second glass of wine -- it won't help. Most of all, I urge you to listen to your partner.
- Because of erectile challenges that come with age, male sexual readiness requires more foreplay. Female readiness requires this too, along with the romantic considerations above.
- Men who use Viagra and other erectile-dysfunction medications should be very aware of their partner's feelings. Some women I surveyed felt their men wouldn't need the little blue pill if they looked like they did when they were younger women. Men should address this by exploring their non-phallic sexuality and by educating their partner that desire is not indicated solely by teenage arousal signs.
- Remember this when you look at your partner -- he or she is aging as you are, perhaps feeling a bit down because they aren't as sexy as they used to feel, and thus both partners would do well to remember that a decrease in sexual physicality can be overcome by increased sexual intimacy and expressed desire. Again, that's where sexual intimacy can and will protect against such a negative spiral.
The good news about my boomer research is that I found that you feel really good about your lives. You like looking back at what you've achieved, and you are looking forward to accomplishing more.
Now it's time for boomers to look inward and delve into under-explored parts of your lives. This means being open to new ways of looking at your sex lives too. And very importantly -- this is especially for the guys -- let's include close, intimate friendships. Intimate sharing with friends and lovers in one's later years often is even more important than it was when you were teenagers.
Boomers, in the end, are just like all of us. You don't only need sexual intimacy, you also need good friends with whom you can share your fears and hopes. It may be the only antidote to mortality.
Jerrold Shapiro, just a few years beyond boomerdom, is professor of counseling psychology at Santa Clara University and author of the new book, "Finding Meaning, Facing Fears, In the Autumn of Your Years (45-65)."