Women of the baby boomer generation know and trust Iris Krasnow as a writer who speaks candidly to the issues that concern them most. In the months following the publication of her most recent book, The Secret Lives of Wives, Krasnow addressed thousands of women, and she discovered that two subjects dominated her audiences’ conversations: sex and change. Whether women are worried about marriage and divorce or illness and death, they’re all asking: “How do I handle the shifts in my sexuality caused by these events?” Sex After . . . holds the answers to everything from regaining sexual confidence after childbirth and breast cancer to navigating the dating scene in senior communities.
As with all of Krasnow’s books since her New York Times bestseller Surrendering to Marriage, the narrative is driven by real women’s stories: raw, intimate, and, most importantly, true. Prescriptive, emancipating, and insightful, Sex After . . . addresses a range of circumstances, including what happens:
- When you or your spouse doesn’t want sex anymore
- After cancer, amputation, PTSD, or another illness maims the body
- If you come out of the closet at middle age
- When your marriage is damaged by adultery
- If you’re dating again after twenty-five years with the same sexual partner
- When your husband is addicted to Viagra
Filled with edgy and honest stories of carnal challenge and triumph from women of all backgrounds and life stages, Sex After . . . is Krasnow’s signature take on Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask—during all of life’s passages. Krasnow is a media and lecture tour favorite, and readers—whether in the heat of an initial can’t-eat-can’t-sleep attraction or rounding the corner to their sixtieth anniversary—will applaud her eye-opening perspectives on the one issue that can change lives for better or worse like nothing else.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I am walking through the maples, birches, buckeyes, and oaks on the campus of Kendal at Oberlin, a retirement living community forty minutes from downtown Cleveland. These verdant grounds are home to 320 residents ranging from ages sixty-four to one-hundred-two-year-old Esther, who credits wine and Coca-Cola as fuel that helps keep her going.
My tour guide is Maggie Stark, the pretty and perky admissions and marketing director of Kendal who reminds me of Julie, the cruise director on the TV show Love Boat. As Maggie ushers me through the facility, excitedly pointing out the ponds and cottages, the tennis courts and walking trails, I am tossed back in time to when I was being shown a summer camp to determine if the place was suitable for my kids.
Forget the children—Camp Kendal is where I would like to sign up to spend my final years. The place crackles with brain power (Kendal residents audit courses at neighboring Oberlin College for free), physical prowess (there are lots of hearty hikers, and a Kendal octogenarian was on the volleyball team that won the silver medal in the 2013 National Senior Games), social clubs, and blooming romances that have led to marriages.
In one large hall, a cluster of white-haired men and women are hanging iridescent tropical fish decorations to prep for this evening’s Spring Fling: A Night at the Beach. The creative, slightly
flirty energy between them is reminiscent of a high school prom committee. Three women who appear to be in their mid-seventies are practicing a tap-dancing routine they will perform at the festivities. Their arms are swaying and they are clicking away to the Beach Boys singing, “Dom dom dom dom dom, dom be dooby, dom dom dom dom dom,” the chorus of the song “Come
Go with Me.”
We stroll by the indoor lap pool where a female swimmer in a bathing cap made of layers of rubber petals is humming to herself and doing the backstroke. Outside, a tall and tanned man in
a Western shirt with pearl snaps is digging and planting spring flowers. Maggie tells me that Bill has taken on the task of tending the courtyard garden of peonies, tulips, grape hyacinths, and irises.
He is eighty-eight, has biceps and a twinkle in his eyes.
The Kendal crowd is in the genre of hip older folks you will encounter in this book who are busting any residual stereotypes that advanced age means creaky, crotchety, lonely, and dried up. I am fifty-eight and awed by their vibrancy—and sex appeal—and hope to grow up to be equally feisty, and alive. They have taught me in countless ways how to push through illness and loss, and surmount relationship hurdles. I am eager to spill the fruits of my research, as my head is crammed, spinning, with stories on how to sustain intimacy no matter what comes our way.
During the past two years spent compiling Sex After . . . I have often felt like the commander of Operation Sex Central. Each day, I have been (happily) assaulted with a titillating stream of information from friends and fellow journalists, on new studies, new drugs, new toys, and new discoveries in the field of human sexuality and aging. It seems that everyone in my close friend and professional circles had a stake in this project, because as we all know, most people are deeply interested in sex, if not obsessed.
These leads and my digging helped me excavate everything I ever wanted to know about the interplay of sex and intimacy—as well as stuff I never wanted to know but was surprised, often staggered, to find out. (My most astounding find: a doctor at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine attempting to grow human penises for reattachment, from the cells of soldiers with genital wounds. He has already successfully regenerated rabbit penises that, when reattached, functioned and produced babies.)
My interviews with 150 women of all ages caused me lots of sleepless nights as I was overstimulated by visions of great sex, bad sex, and how relationships shift throughout the female life cycle.
The combination of curiosity and insomnia have driven the composition of this book, which explains in unabashed detail the answers to questions such as these:
• How dangerous is my twenty-year-old’s hooking-up culture?
• Why do I love my new baby and loathe my new husband?
• We have sex at most once a month: How often is normal for a married couple to do it?
• Will I ever want to sleep with anyone again after my painful divorce?
• What can I do about painful menopausal sex?
• How will I resume our sex life after breast or prostate cancer, or the amputation of a limb?
• What can I expect from sex when I am in my seventies and eighties?
• What the hell is a penis pump anyway?
If you picked up Sex After . . ., you are intrigued as I am by sexual behavior, our most pleasurable and most perplexing primal need. Given the book’s subtitle, Women Share How Intimacy Changes as Life Changes, you are also likely interested in understanding how we can fan that flame for the rest of our lives. Along with my sassy seniors, there are plenty of tips herein from younger females who are revelatory and proud of their sexcapades in an era when it is no longer solely a man’s role to initiate a pickup.
Perhaps the most memorable takeaways come from the mouths of audacious, bodacious babes three times their age, especially the wives who lost husbands of fifty-plus years—the only men they ever slept with—and are now as blathery as teenagers about their new “boyfriends.”
My grandmother died at eighty-eight, outliving my grandfather by more than four decades. She did not date, and I never saw her clothed in anything but prim silk dresses, usually paired with white gloves. Many of the widows who sat down with me were wearing neon sweats and are on Match. com.
Hope sprung in all of us youngsters who have yet to turn sixty, watching Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones in their delicious 2012 movie Hope Springs. After thirty years of a marriage that has turned tepid and sexless, they sign up for a couples retreat with a shrink, played realistically by Steve Carell. He gives them a set of sexercises, which gets them back into the bedroom, where they become sweaty and elated and more in love than ever.
That Meryl Streep still reigns as one of Hollywood’s biggest draws is emblematic of this new age when women can flex, and own, their sexuality long past svelte midlife. Many of the people
I spoke to in their twenties and thirties, and even some in their forties, were still floundering about love and intimacy. The older dames know precisely who they are, and what they want from their partners. And they are proof that prolonged intimacy has more to do with the mind than the body and is way more fulfilling than fleeting sexual highs. My most meaningful reward as a writer of relationship books is that I can pass on their sage reflections, wisdom that can sharpen and redirect our own journeys.
There is so much mystery surrounding sex, and that inexplicable magic is central to its sweet allure. I have left the ephemeral quality of sexuality intact but have added hard facts and statistics and true stories of sickness, struggles, and victories. My wish for all of my readers is that this book dissipates any scary mythology about what a woman could encounter as time goes by. And may that truth release you into becoming your authentic and fullest sexual self, after the honeymoon, after cancer, after boredom, after divorce, after wrinkles—until death do you part.
Although there are lots of senior citizens carrying on in Sex After . . ., I promise those of you who have yet to turn thirty thatthis is not an old lady’s book. Rather, it is a valuable guide to howto pick the right partners and break off unhealthy ties. My research assistant, Nicole Glass, twenty-four, says she feels fully armed to face “any relationship” after days and months and years of helping me extract every morsel of news on how age and life changes affect intimacy.
“This project has prepared me for the weird and the wild stages of human relationships that can quickly sneak up on those of us in our twenties who tend not to focus on the future,” says Nicole. “It was great to find out the news that seniors are often more passionate, and having more fun, than newlyweds!”
Some interview subjects have requested that their names and identifying details be changed. Those women are referred to by a first name only, a pseudonym. When first and last names are used, those are real names of persons who agreed to be identified on the record. If there is a story in this book that resembles your story, but I did not speak to you, it is not you. The only people whose experiences are printed in first-person narrative portions are people I interviewed.
Reprinted by arrangement with GOTHAM BOOKS, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © IRIS KRASNOW, 2014.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Then and Now 1
Chapter 1 Why Sex Matters 3
Chapter 2 The New Free Love 23
Part 2 The Honeymoon Is Over 59
Chapter 3 Sex After Baby 61
Chapter 4 Sex After his Illness 89
Chapter 5 Sex After Infidelity 107
Chapter 6 Sex After Divorce 133
Part 3 Midlife Malaise 171
Chapter 7 Sex After Coming Out 173
Chapter 8 Sex After Breast Cancer 193
Chapter 9 Sex After Menopause 221
Part 4 Adventures in Outercourse 253
Chapter 10 His Aging Parts 255
Chapter 11 The Giddy Golden Girls 271
What People are Saying About This
"[Krasnow] alternates well-researched passages full of relevant statistics and quotes with frank stories about sex after major life events such as childbirth, illness, infidelity, and more...Those skeptical of Krasnow's assertion that, in the realm of sex, 'the 70s are the new 40s' surely will change their minds after reading this lusty litany"
"[Krasnow] is a knowledgeable guide who shows great respect to the variety of life circumstances and aims to put readers at ease...there is osmething relatable for everyone and many opportunities to gain new knowledge as one moves through life."
"A nuanced, revelatory account of the role of sexual freedom in modern intimacy"
"We think that sex is eternal but in fact our ideas on sex do change with the decades. Sex After… is full of comforting information about these changes. A book that will be read and reread with gratitude."
—Erica Jong, New York Times bestselling author of Fear of Flying
“This book will start conversations that need to be had, and discussions about female sexual health and pleasure that need to be better understood. Some of the best and most practical advice comes from those who have been there. I also know change to, and in, our sex lives is inevitable and that women want to know what other women really do to recreate their intimate and sexual landscape. Part validation, part guide, part supportive girlfriend, Sex After... is your close girlfriends in book form sharing the real goods—and I mean real goods—on what they did and do.”
—Lou Paget, author of The Great Lover Playbook and AASECT Certified Sex Educator