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Grannies Gone Wild?

by Carol Ann Raphael

Like most baby boomers, I’ve always thought of myself as young—perpetually ready, willing, and able to try (or to buy) something new, to follow my fancy, and not to worry too much about my economic future. Somehow things would work out as long as I was true to my bliss and cultivated inner peace. I’ve pretty much been able to do what I wanted in life, changing habitats—houses, countries, and even spouses—with relative ease, albeit giving due attention to “processing” my emotions all the while. Now among the first of my generation to roll into our sixties, I’m finding that the landscape of mature femininity is taking on a unique cast.

For starters, there’s menopause, which I’ve discovered is a relatively new phenomenon for women. It’s not that ceasing to menstruate is new. It’s just that now there are more of us living long enough to go through menopause. At the beginning of the twentieth century, life expectancy for women was forty-nine. Now, in the early years of the twenty-first century, our life expectancy has nearly doubled.

Approximately 150,000 American women enter menopause each month. And with seventy-eight million baby boomers beginning to turn sixty, the number of postmenopausal women will continue to swell. By the year 2025, all boomers will have turned sixty-five and two-thirds of them will be women. Healthy women like me, age sixty, can expect to live another thirty to forty years, according to the experts, thus creating an unprecedented number of “older” women.

Grannies gone wild?

I’ve learned other interesting statistics. The number of AIDS cases among Americans over fifty has quintupled since 1995. This translates into approximately fourteen percent of this population, and it means that eighteen percent of women with AIDS are older women. In addition to the fact that the AIDS population is aging, there are now more people in their fifties being diagnosed with AIDS than people in their twenties. On the heels of this, the fact that, the world’s leading online dating service, claims that people fifty and older are the fastest-growing age group using its site is not so surprising.

Further proof that the “seasoned” woman—a term coined by Gail Sheehy—is sexually fit is the rash of books telling us so. These books, with unapologetic titles such as Better Than I Ever Expected, Seducing the Demon, The Round-Heeled Woman, Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, and Sheehy’s own Sex and the Seasoned Woman, proclaim that age need not and will not interfere with the mature woman’s right to and interest in a robust sex life. They are as much a declaration of undiminished desire as they are an unabashed depiction of amorous passion. The Round-Heeled Woman chronicles author Jane Juska’s adventures in search of lots of sex with a man she likes before she turns sixty-seven. Erica Jong, who made her fame with the freewheeling escapades of a sex-obsessed heroine in Fear of Flying, published in 1973 when she was thirty, has recycled many of the same inhibitionless frolics in her latest memoir of her sexually liberated life as a writer in Seducing the Demon.

As for enduring prowess and allure, a burgeoning niche in the pornography industry that is sometimes referred to as “granny porn”—X-rated films starring mature women age forty, fifty, and more—is rapidly becoming one of the fastest-growing areas of video pornography, as reported recently in the New York Times. Add to this the fact that sex toys have now replaced Tupperware at those popular party-shopping-spree affairs that the plastic container manufacturer so brilliantly conceived and we have a picture of the “new universe of lusty, liberated women,” as Sheehy puts it.

It’s a world that’s beginning to look less and less new and more and more familiar—even like adolescence, as Sheehy herself insinuates when she refers to middle age as “middlescence.” The only thing that really seems to be changing is the numbers. More women than ever before in human history are living longer, with better health and more money. As our abiding interest in sex is making very clear, we’ve still got a lot of vitality and an undiminished passion for life. I’m as unwilling as any boomer to toss in my cross-trainers for a life of measured “coffee spoons” and sensible shoes. But I also don’t want to endlessly rehash the summer of love. With all our optimism, independence, and revolutionary zeal, surely we can embrace the maturity of our years and still enthusiastically pursue a life of discovery and delight.


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This article is from
Our Future of Women's Liberation Issue


July–September 2007