Skip to content

Excerpt From 'Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America'

'Many women say sex improves after young adulthood'

Many women say sex improves after young adulthood. Thirty or forty years of enlightenment — contraception, abortion rights, same-sex activism, greater acceptance of divorce and psychotherapy; feminist, disability, and anti-racist empowerment — have made possible enormous changes in consciousness and behavior. Women don't find it hard to tell a progress story if they started years ago with brutal or incompatible partners, forced pregnancies, unsafe abortions, ignorance of their own erogenous zones and fantasies, a gender ascription that didn't accord with their sexual selfhood, an ideology of marital "duty," religious proscriptions against passion and against various forms of sexual expression including masturbation, exhaustion at work plus child-rearing, or frightening phobias. ...

Some apparently physiological problems or self-esteem issues disappear. You find "the right person," a good doctor, a wise feminist therapist. Agency, often scrawny in youth, thrives with knowledge. "Technique" is not a property of persons, as people believed when I was a teenager. (In high school my friend Nick had a reputation as a great lover; that meant he could "satisfy" anyone. My girlfriends and I were so ignorant, we didn't know that our feelings toward a partner, and our relation to virginity, to mention only two factors, were way more important.)

As they age, women acquire experiences that may mature their judgment and lower their risk-taking. They get more power (from jobs, money, the raising of children, mentoring). A woman leaves a situation she defines as unpleasant or she learns to negotiate to improve it. Over the same historical period, some male peers also ... changed their behaviors to become better partners.

Agewise: Fighting the New Ageism in America by Margaret Morganroth Gullette, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 2011 Margaret Morganroth Gullette. All rights reserved. Read an interview with Margaret Morganroth Gullette.