Sex & Love: The New World; More Middle-Aged People Than Ever Are Single, and They're Finding the Rules Have Changed. STDs and Internet Dates. Aging Bodies and Kids at Home. Who Knew?

By Kantrowitz, Barbara | Newsweek, February 20, 2006 | Go to article overview

Sex & Love: The New World; More Middle-Aged People Than Ever Are Single, and They're Finding the Rules Have Changed. STDs and Internet Dates. Aging Bodies and Kids at Home. Who Knew?


Kantrowitz, Barbara, Newsweek


Byline: Barbara Kantrowitz (With Joan Raymond, Karen Springen, Pat Wingert, Anna Kuchment and Raina Kelley)

He expected to end up alone. so did she. Joe Germana, 49, had been married to Jane, "the love of my life," for 17 years. Diane Barna, 51, had been in a committed relationship with the same man for nearly a quarter of a century. Then, three years ago, Germana and his two young daughters returned to their Parma, Ohio, home after a brief shopping trip and found Jane dead from a medication reaction. "It was an absolute kick in the gut, a nightmare," he says. "Dating was the last thing on my mind." When Barna's longtime partner died last year, she, too, thought her romantic life was over. "I knew what love was, and not everyone gets that lucky," says Barna, a legal secretary who lives in Olmsted Falls, Ohio. "I had a great job, a good circle of friends, a lot of interests, and I thought I just wasn't going to settle for something in pants."

But love at midlife is full of surprises. You'll see.

The 77,702,865 Americans born between 1946 and 1964 came of age in the era of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And while the last two may have lost some appeal over the years, sex and relationships remain front and center as the oldest boomers turn 60 this year. That's largely because more boomers are single than any previous cohort of forty to sixtysomethings. According to the Census Bureau, 28.6 percent of adults age 45 to 59 were unattached in 2003, compared with only 18.8 percent in 1980. (Of those, 16.6 percent were divorced, 2.9 percent were widowed and 9.1 percent had never been married.) And many of these singles are on the prowl. In a recent AARP survey, up to 70 percent of single boomers said they dated regularly. Of those between 40 and 59 years old, 45 percent of men and 38 percent of women have intercourse at least once a week.

In the 1970s and '80s, gay men and women who didn't have the option of marriage pioneered this pattern of evolving social connections. But for boomers in 2006, the issues have shifted. Gay or straight, they worry about the effect on --their kids, especially if they became parents late in life. It's one thing to get an all-clear from a 23-year-old son or daughter but quite another to date around when you've got a preschooler in the house.

Images of middle-aged sex are beginning to permeate popular culture, from Jack Nicholson and a nude Diane Keaton in "Something's Gotta Give" to Charles and Camilla (together at last). Romance novelist Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who has nine New York Times best sellers to her credit, often includes passionate older couples in her books. "In the one I'm working on now, the secondary love story is between this geezer rocker and a woman who was once his groupie," she says. "They're both in their early 50s." In real life, there's Mick Jagger, still seeking satisfaction at 62. Author Gail Sheehy, who defined life journeys with "Passages" in the 1970s and "The Silent Passage" (on menopause) in 1991, has a new offering: "Sex and the Seasoned Woman," which promises to prove that women over 50 are "spicy... marinated in life experience."

That's a sea change from a generation ago, when older singles were out of the game. "You were supposed to stay home and be a grandparent at 50," says University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz, 59, a twice-divorced single boomer herself and the author of "Finding Your Perfect Match." But boomers, Schwartz says, are "very clear about what they want, and they're willing to go looking for it." A whole new industry is gearing up to help with everything from drugs for erectile dysfunction to sex toys designed to appeal to boomers' more elevated sense of style (higher-quality silicone, according to Rebecca Suzanne, marketing manager of Babeland). Gyms across the country are introducing low-impact classes to attract boomers who want to firm up flabby thighs and jelly bellies in order to attract an equally fit partner. …

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