Sex in my 20s was a predictable combination plate. There were a few positions, a smattering of dirty talk, and little to no meaningful conversation about needs and fantasies. When I got married, the tepid sexual exploration my then-husband and I had enjoyed before the wedding devolved to a sputter that was finally extinguished two years ago when I divorced.
At 50, dating for the first time in over two decades, I ventured into a brave new world of sex that was kinda like sex in my 20s, only a zillion times better. It was -- and remains -- better because it's chock full of things I never experienced when I was younger. Things that I'd heard about but thought were slightly depraved. Things that that no partner appeared inclined to do.
But now, many of these things are de rigeur. I'm not sure when they entered the sexual mainstream, or if they were always there and I didn't know it. I'm not sure if I attract more adventurous partners or if people have just become more adventurous. And if people are more adventurous than they were a few decades earlier, why is that? Has the easy access to porn normalized sex acts and altered expectations? Has the virtual candy store of online dating enabled people who never would have met to sleep together, or just trade sexual proclivities by messaging back and forth?
Several months ago, when I was contacted by a woman on OkCupid, I realized just how different sex had become. She was a beautiful 35-year-old bisexual, and she wrote me a lovely, flattering message inquiring if I wanted to meet. I told her if I liked women, I would indeed, but being as hetero as they come, I was going to pass. Her stunned response? "I didn't think anyone was totally straight anymore." We messaged back and forth for awhile and I came up with this completely unscientific conclusion, but one which I swear by, the first on my list of the ways sex is different now that I'm in my 50s:
1. People are more comfortable with sexual fluidity.
When I was in college, I had a few gay friends. And I knew of some people who were rumored to be bisexual. But for the most part, it seemed that people were either gay or straight, and most of them were straight. There wasn't support for the coming-out process back then -- or for same-sex preferences at all -- so I imagine that declaring one's attraction to both genders was not something people were inclined to do unless they absolutely had to. But it's different now: people are more comfortable pursuing a sexual interest in a particular person, whether that's male, female, or transgender. It's part of developing one's sexual identity -- something that very few people allowed themselves to do in my earlier days.
2. Intimate grooming.
One of the first men who contacted me online was a 28-year-old. He had a MILF fantasy he was dying to indulge. We agreed to meet, and as we were figuring out the logistics, he asked me what type of intimate grooming I preferred: trimmed or completely bare. "That's a thing?" I asked. "I don't get it." He LOL'd and said everyone he knew took it all off. Since then, most of my sexual experiences have borne that out. Especially with younger men. No one I slept with in my youth -- and I mean no one -- shaved it all off, or even trimmed. I am actually surprised now, when I discover that a guy doesn't manscape. For both men and women, intimate grooming has become a regular grooming ritual. Another thing that has surprised me about men is what they bring to an encounter:
I should clarify that I'm talking about straight men. Gay men have always had lube on hand. But before my re-emergence into the dating scene at 50, I never met a man who showed up on a date with lube -- which many older women need due to vaginal dryness. Part of this shift, I think, is that men collaborate more with the women they sleep with, instead of leaving a woman's needs and satisfaction totally up to her.
4. Better communication.
Whenever I read articles complaining about sexually self-centered men who don't seem to notice if their partners are unsatisfied, I wonder: who are these men? Because they're not like the men I date. I can think of only one all-about-him partner I've had since I've been divorced, whose only question begged an enthusiastic answer about the size of his manhood. The rest have been wonderful lovers, at least in terms of reciprocity. The "what do you like?" questions often start before the first date, and become more involved when the sexual relationship begins. Much of this conversation involves:
5. Dirty talk.
When I was younger, about the raciest thing I ever heard was "I love the way you taste." Now, everyone's a regular porn star, as far as dirty talk goes. Not only do guys talk dirty, but a lot of them also write dirty. It's exhilarating to get an email from a man describing just how your next sexual encounter is going to go down. I'm amazed by the amount of men who write dirty, and who write dirty well. And a lot of this dirty writing involves:
Spanking, hair-pulling, binding wrists, crops, and paddles -- I never encountered any of these in my younger days. I think a lot of boomers have become kinkier as they've grown older, whereas a lot of younger folks start out kinky, or shortly thereafter. Again, I think the prevalence of porn and the sharing of information has made kink a part of the sexual conversation, a conversation that just didn't exist among the mainstream hetero population a few decades ago. Another thing I never encountered before is:
7. Sexy underwear on men.
In my younger days, all I ever saw were white Hanes briefs or loose-fitting boxers. Now, it's all low-rise microfiber briefs and trunks in primary colors. Once, when I was young, I was startled when a lover revealed tight blue briefs, but I chocked it up to the fact that he was European. In the past two years, however, I've grown accustomed to lovers who sport designer skivvies -- and I find it to be an incredible turn-on.
These are just some of the ways I've found sex to be different, and more rewarding, now that I'm older -- now that I've entered an age when I'm "supposed" to be too old to be interested in sex. I'd love to hear from you about what's different about sex in your 50s -- and beyond. What has surprised you? What is the most pleasurable? And what's left that you'd like to explore?