Erica Jong, known best for her book “Fear of Flying” not too long ago waxed poetic in the Sunday New York Times about what has happened to the sex lives of the younger generation. According to Jong, younger women are yearning for the nostalgia of a 50’s era happily-ever-after notion of monogamy, marriage and motherhood. According to Jong – it’s a kind of rebellion and a desire for control. I find Jong’s piece startling, as I had been reading something else in the New York Times, of a cultural acknowledgement that monogamy isn’t working quite as well as most of us thought it should – reported in “Married With Infidelities” by Mark Oppenheimer.
I came late to my own true sexually. Just like many of the young women of today, I started life obsessed with marriage, monogamy, and motherhood when I was in my twenties – this is thirty years ago. I don’t think that I was rejecting sexuality – as I remember it way back then – it was pretty good. No – it wasn’t swinging from the chandelier sex – but it was good sex. I was not alone then – all of my girlfriends in their 20’s and 30’s were on the same exact path.
This is hardly a new phenomena, even if Erica Jong is just noticing this with her 30 year old daughter. To me, a seasoned fertility advocate and founder of the American Fertility Association – this is simply not new. In fact I will go further and say that this is in great part due to biology and the culture that most of us are raised in. Most women intuitively know that they need stability to bring children into this world (remember the famous “It takes a village” line?) Unfortunately, most women don’t have a village to help them raise a child – so they count on monogamy and marriage to help them do the job. Today’s woman not only doesn’t have a village to help raise her child, but she is usually working a full time job – and hoping that her husband will carry some of the child rearing work.
After the love, the marriage, and the baby carriage – what we often end up with is exhausted women with little children, full time jobs, lots of pressure and not much of a sex life. I don’t believe that this generation of women are much different than my generation of women: Sexuality wanes when you are a working mother without a village and a tired, overwhelmed husband.
I also believe that women in their childbearing years are naturally more focused on marriage, monogamy and having children. For so many of us, it’s simply wired into our DNA. To me, the really interesting sexuality story is what happens to women in their forties and fifties. That is where the juice really lies.
Once those children are raised (or mostly raised), in that fabulous period in women’s lives, that I call “The Shift before The Shift” which arrives somewhere between peri-menopause and menopause – all bets are off! Those same girlfriends who I grew up with, sharing scraped knees, high school graduations, weddings, motherhood, monogamy and children, were now winking at the bus driver! They were no longer content being boxed up in a life of boy scouts, the PTA, and high stress jobs. Now these women wanted sex – sex like they had never had it before. Yes – Erica – now they were ready for “Fear of Flying Sex”!
The question remains how to have exciting sex in weathered, monogamous marriage without “Cheating”. I tell my story in “Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow got Home in Time to Cook Dinner” (Rodale 2011). But the telling of that story about how I explored my sexuality with paid hands on practitioners – made more people uncomfortable than if I was having an affair with my next door neighbor!
I agree with Erica Jong on the point that female sexuality is still full of taboo. What is good for the gander is not good for the goose – and mainstream media conspires to help keep us boxed up and quiet. Male sexual enhancement products such as Viagra can show up in commercials during the super bowl, but have you ever heard of “Sex Butter”? Men can pay for sex and we can read all about it – everywhere. A woman paying for hands on touch? You can only see that on HBO “Hung,” because that is best kept to fiction. Women do get punished for being sexually open all the time – the rules are not the same. But I speak to women every day in my sex coaching practice who are breaking the rules and keeping it sub rosa. But just because it is below the surface – doesn’t mean that it is not happening.
I don’t believe as Ms. Jong contends that “Sexual passion is on life support”. I just think that biology is a cruel task master – keeping many young women focused on babies, home and hearth until that job is done. But once it is done – like me, and so many women that I know – they literally ache for something more. And that is when marriage with infidelities really start to appear on the playing field of life. I agree with the famed sex columnist Dan Savage who says that monogamy is difficult – that it is counter intuitive to our biology. If you want to read more on this subject pick up the fabulous “Sex at Dawn” by Christopher Ryan.
I do think that we are about to dive into another great big sexual revolution – and it is not going to be led by women in their 20’s and 30’s. They are busy doing what women in their 20’s and 30’s have been doing since forever – having babies.
But just you wait – it will be those same women in their 40’s who are awakening with a force that I have never seen before. They are developing Goddess Circles, pitching Red Tents, and desperately looking to explore their sexuality in brand new ways. They are not rejecting passion, instead they are desperate to find it – and in their forties, fifties and beyond – they are currently building brand new paradigms after the job of motherhood is done.