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From the ‘Third Date Rule’ to Sex Ed: Boomer Sex and Dating Trends

Getting married again is not popular. But getting intimate after a few dates is, says a new Kinsey/Match study

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Most single boomers say they’re ready to get intimate with a new partner by the third date – a practice so common that it’s been dubbed “The Third Date Rule.”

​​That’s just one of the many trends in dating for older adults found in the latest “Singles in America” study, released by Match in conjunction with the Kinsey Institute, an esteemed educational research institute that is part of Indiana University. ​​

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Among other key data points for adults ages 59-77: an overall preference for sexual monogamy, a desire to know more about consent and, for many, a sex drought.

​​“Regarding the new data, I’m kind of hopeful,” says Justin Garcia, an evolutionary biologist and sex researcher who is executive director of the Kinsey Institute and also a professor with Indiana University’s Department of Gender Studies. “These are things we can think critically about and implement to make our romantic and sexual lives more fulfilling.” ​​

Here are the chief takeaways for older adults: ​​

The third date rule. Sixty-six percent of singles said they were amenable to cuddling by the third date and 58 percent were up for a make-out session. Roughly one-third reported being comfortable with getting naked, touching each other’s naked bodies, performing and receiving oral sex, having vaginal or anal sexual intercourse, and discussing their sexual likes and dislikes. ​​

“Many people give themselves self-imposed rules to guide their behavior in dating,” says Garcia, who coauthored the book Evolution of Sexual Behavior and has served as a scientific adviser for since 2010. “We are freer than ever to date and love and be intimate with whomever we want, but that freedom and openness can lead to a lack of clarity. I think having rules is a good thing. People, especially in dating, can be nervous, anxious, scared, excited. It gives you a rough goalpost.” ​​

Sex education. Forty-three percent of boomers say more sex ed in their younger years would have helped them have healthier and happier relationships today. Two key missing pieces are that 45 percent said they never learned about how to give or get consent and 49 percent never learned how to talk about sex in general. ​​

“The goal is to make sure people of all ages have the tools to engage in sex in ways that are safe, consensual and fulfilling,” Garcia says. “It’s never too late to invest in learning about the role of sexuality in our lives. For older populations, this information is still so important.” ​​

Garcia suggests talking to a medical professional about sex or accessing academic lectures on aging and sex. “People underestimate the value of stories and articles,” he adds. “If you look for the information, you’ll find it. Don’t be afraid to read the article. Stay informed about how to make sure sex is still pleasurable and satisfying.” ​​

Sexual relationship styles. Just over half of boomers say that traditional sexual monogamy is their ideal sexual relationship and that the three most important factors in a healthy romantic relationship are trust, mutual respect and effective communication. ​​

Few, around 2 percent, identified their ideal relationship as multiple committed partners in an open or consensual nonmonogamous relationship; and 4 percent say uncommitted sexual partners (e.g. hookups, one-night stands) are their ideal. Only about 1 percent want sex via internet or in a virtual reality environment. And 9 percent said their preference was a “friends with benefits” mode.

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​​Nearly 60 percent said they felt empowered and comfortable asking a sexual partner for what they want. ​​

Only 10 percent of single boomers who have been married want to marry again. ​​

Sex drought. A majority of older singles, 74 percent, reported having had no sex in the last 12 months, and 28 percent said “no sexual relationship” was their preferred status. (By comparison, 21 percent of the 5,000-plus U.S. singles age 18-77 identified no relationship as their ideal.) ​​

Although the frequency of sexual activity has declined in a lot of national samples, Garcia says that doesn’t necessarily translate into a lack of interest in having a sexual partner. ​​

He attributes the sex drought in large measure to the stresses in people’s lives today – financial challenges, concern about infectious diseases, recovering from the global trauma of COVID, the loneliness epidemic.

​​“That’s a lot of weight,” he adds. “The psychological and social stress that people feel is not conducive to sexual desire. It’s a good reminder that when we’re stressed, we might lose our sexual desire.” ​ ​​​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​

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