I was having coffee with a woman I'd met online when she beaned me with a non sequitur:
"Are you still sexual?"
I recovered my composure enough to reply, "Sure am."
Then it happened again: On another first date I got hit with the same question. This time I couldn't shrug it off. "Are you asking me that because you've run into problems with it before?"
"Yes," Date No. 2 told me. "Lots of men your age are not."
Hmm … had a secret "sex gap" opened between boomer men and women when I wasn't looking?
My own sex gap was the lengthy stretch of celibacy I'd endured at the end of a failing marriage. Now, with a painful divorce behind me, I'd been thinking about sex a fair bit — OK, a lot — but hadn't met anyone special yet. And that was key, because I was determined not to revert to old dating patterns (think California circa 1971) that centered on casual sex. Instead, I wanted to fall in love first. Did that make me not still "sexual"?
Forging an emotional connection as a prelude to sex, I quickly discovered, is a truth not yet universally acknowledged.
I had just had dinner with a woman I'd dated twice. We were talking on her sofa when suddenly she leaned in and kissed me. More from politeness than passion (I felt only lukewarm about her) I returned the kiss.
Then she sat up and pulled her sweater over her head. Shock must have shown on my face. Seeing it, she dropped the S-bomb: "You mean you're not still sexual?"
The scene wasn't steamy, but I was steamed. "Yeah, I'm still sexual," I fired back. "But that doesn't automatically mean I want to be sexual with you." She put her sweater back on, then waxed nostalgic about her last relationship — with a much younger guy, she claimed, who had made love to her six times a night. "Thanks for sharing that," I told her on my way out the door.
Driving home, I wondered: Would all my dates prove this topsy-turvy?
Countless online posts by boomer women complain of men who demand sex on the second date, and sometimes on the first. I've come to sympathize with them: Devaluing the goal of getting to know someone first strikes me as both dismissive and disrespectful.
Indeed, men (and women!) who still believe that casual sex is cool simply puzzle me. An emotional bond enhances both partners' sense of safety, confidence and desirability. Midlife sex with a stranger, by contrast, seems more like masturbating. Where's the love in that?
I finally did meet a woman with relationship potential. Before she could ask me the Dreaded Question, I hastened to mention that I was still sexual but wanted to establish an emotional connection first. She smiled in agreement. Our previous relationships had taught us that becoming sexual too quickly was usually a mistake. Now we were both looking for something enduring — and we knew that couldn't happen overnight. Six months into our relationship, we're enjoying a sexual relationship based on sweet feelings of trust and mutual respect.
The reason that boomer relationships can be so fraught is that both partners often carry dating baggage bulging at the seams. So rather than answering (or asking) the question "Are you still sexual?" think about recasting it this way: "Is sex still an important part of a relationship for you?"
For nearly every man and woman, the answer will likely be a resounding yes. That means you can take your time — and fall in love before you fall into bed.
Ken Solin writes about dating for AARP.