Ask Dr. Pat · Sex & Sexuality

Sex After the Age of Aquarius

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

I am glad I came of age during the dawning of Aquarius. Contraception was finally available and a sexual relationship in the context of a relationship was finally no longer considered inappropriate. I am sure I would not have been able to manage the sexual or emotional demands faced by younger women today who live in what Vanity Fair called “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse.’

The social media lives of most young women are filled with stylized and often sexualized photos that present images to men looking for sex, but never for love. Women just ending their late adolescence may choose to hook up and be sexually active, but many of them know little about the intimacy that makes sex wonderful. While women in this age group are no doubt both sexually attractive and attracted to others, learning the physical mechanics—and, more importantly, the emotional dynamics—involved in a sexual relationship can be a slow process. It takes self-confidence, knowledge of one’s erotic needs, and the capacity and interest to please a partner—all of which are easier to achieve within a committed, trusting relationship.

Today’s pervasive “hookup culture” offers women little opportunity for such experience. The social milieu that adolescent girls and young women in college and in their 20s and even 30s find themselves in now often induces them to have sex because they decided to use a hook-up app as a way to have a pretend date or to just have sex.  Many young women feel that they have no other choice if they want to interest a man, and yet a sexual encounter rarely leads to second “dates.”

“Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse’ ” is a long and thoughtful article about the altered social and sexual relationships that exist for millions of people as a result of the ubiquitous use of dating/hookup apps and the pervasive use of porn by men. Young men and women spend hours a day viewing prospective hook-ups and swiping right or left to achieve an immediate sexual connection. The phone is now “a sort of all-day, every-day, handheld singles club where they might find a sex partner as easily as they’d find a cheap flight to Florida.” Two choice comments from men who were interviewed for this article are: “It’s like ordering Seamless,” says Dan, an investment banker, referring to the online food-delivery service, “but you’re ordering a person.”  And Brian says, “When it’s so easy, when it’s so available to you, and you can meet somebody and f*&% them in 20 minutes, it’s very hard to contain yourself.”

While it takes time and trust for many women to even be orgasmic in a new relationship, women over 40 know that though young men may be able to sustain an erection longer, often they don’t know what else to do. Young women now describe the difficulties they face with young male partners who are unable to achieve or sustain an erection or unable to ejaculate.  I learned that these unfortunate results are referred by young women as “weed dick or whiskey dick.” After an hour of increasingly painful intercourse one young woman reported that she told the app guy that she was tired and sore and had enough.  As she was getting dressed, the outraged man said, “Aren’t you even going to finish me off?” And he apparently lived to swipe and try again!

It takes experience for men to know the geography of the female genital map and to understand what each new partner will enjoy. There are too many young men who can’t find a clitoris even with a GPS device, and very few young women have the confidence or voice to tell these partners what really pleases them. Foreplay, not alcohol or drugs, is what will please most women who are mature enough to know what they want. And—duh—conversation and flirting are foreplay. With experience and passing through some decades, women learn to ask for what they want, they know they don’t have to apologize for not having an orgasm in three minutes or God forbid: feel inadequate if they don’t achieve an orgasm at the same time their partners do, like so many porn films show. Women over 40 have had the opportunity to develop skills to become more experienced sexual partners themselves.  Age gives both sexes the opportunity to know themselves and to become authentic, which can lead to real confidence in the bedroom. This confidence and years of sexual experience allow both men and women to know what their partners like and to enjoy both giving and receiving sexual pleasure.

Psychologically, casual sex offers a poor introduction to sex for men and women alike, though more and more frequently, casual sex is all they know. It is the rare young woman who has the independence or sense of self to go against this prevailing culture—especially when pop stars and other celebrities are busy setting examples for them. Sex is sold as “no big deal”—but in the process, its importance as part of an intimate relationship is degraded. Young women often lose their sense of agency or choice in the matter. Once again women are “silenced” and learn that their needs are not part of the equation. Multiple hookups, app driven and drug-and alcohol-fueled one-time encounters, playing dress-up emotionally and sexually in order to find the person who might be “the one,” are just part of the agony that the app-controlled generation have to endure.

Yet in the end, I think both parties wind up uncomfortable, because sex IS intimate. Another reason that app-sex is often quick and not an overnight experience.  Now no one has to wake up naked in the morning next to a stranger and badly want to get away. There is no easy small talk when it was all about the sexual act and there is no context for conversation.  This is one of the reasons that one-night stands so rarely lead to long-term relationships (even in the Age of Aquarius).


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