Author Gail Sheehy has been examining human behavior for three decades. In 1976, she wrote her breakthrough book, Passages, which looks at life's transitions and has sold 5 million copies. In her new book, Sex and the Seasoned Woman, Sheehy, 68, tackles a taboo topic: the sexuality of older women and how they can live a long passionate life. Sheehy spoke with TIME's ANDREA SACHS.
What makes a woman seasoned?
Time. She is spicy and, like a fine wine, complex. She is mellow and effervescent, sweet and tart. She can be playful and maternal. I think you see that in Camilla, who waited 30-some years for her prince. She is both a nanny figure and a seductive figure who wears décolletage and form-fitting clothes. She's also a trusted adviser to her husband.
The subject of older women and sex makes many folks uncomfortable. Why?
Older women and sex are something people didn't want to hear or talk about. It used to be that middle-aged children were scandalized if their 70-year-old mom started dating, but not so much if their 75-year-old dad married a 30-year-old. With Mom it just wasn't done.
Don't older men look for younger women?
Usually. That's why older women typically hook up with men who are younger or older than they are. And some are very open about saying they like having several different companions, older and younger. Younger is wonderful for hot athletic sex, and the older man is really a wonderful cultural companion.
Aren't some older women happy to leave sex behind?
Yes, and there are men like that too. The sadder women are those I call the LLs, the Lowered Libidos, who expressed to me that they had very little libido but weren't doing anything about it. And they seemed to be closed off to knowing or doing anything about it. There are some very simple things older women can do that are healthy and safe.
What are those?
Start by stepping up exercise and drop 5 to 10 lbs., which will boost your body image. Set a goal to meet 50 new people in the next year through activities, classes, the Internet. Vibrators can enhance and preserve a woman's capacity to achieve orgasm, especially during periods of nonsexual activity.
Don't a lot of adult children flip out at the idea of Mom hooking up?
There certainly are middle-aged children who have an oh-my-God, Mom's-gone-wild reaction if Mom starts to date. But what they should recognize is that if Mom has a boyfriend, she won't be nagging them about how they have to come to her for Christmas. And on summer vacation, they won't have to go with her or take her along with the kids. She'll be off with her boyfriend and his family. And if she's happy, they're going to be a lot happier.
What about sex in a seasoned marriage?
Some of the best sex is among couples who have been together a long time. In middle and later years, libido is reduced for both men and women, so it takes work and planning. When you plan sexual encounters, lovemaking can be more exciting. You may need more fantasy or foreplay. It helps to find a getaway as your private love nest.
Are you a seasoned woman?