Passage Marker: Gail Sheehy

Photo: Courtesy of Burt Glinn/Random House

An important player in the story of this magazine, Gail Sheehy is continuing her work as the historian of women’s lives—the mapping she began with her feminist classic Passages in 1976. Now on her fifteenth book (and latest best seller), Sex and the Seasoned Woman, she spoke to Jada Yuan about women who are entering their “Second Adulthood” after the age of 50.

Did you read Toni Bentley’s review in the Times?
Yes. This book is all about the attitude that you bring to this time of life. I haven’t read her paean to anal sex, but I don’t think pursuing a sado-masochistic life is particularly more dignified than sex after 50.

What is so different about the way many older women are approaching their lives?
There is a whole generation of boomers who are not going to give up the pleasures of touching or being touched for some hobby utilizing yarn.

Will 60 become the new 40?
Sixty-year-old women would mostly never want to be 40 again. There are so many conflicting choices at 40: Should I have a child? Should I have another child? Should I get out of this marriage? These are no longer questions at 60. Sixty is the new 60.

A lot of older women are getting out of their marriages.
Many women I talked to felt like they’d missed [the sexual revolution].

New York can be a hard place for any dater. How can seasoned women locate what you call their “Pilot Light Lovers”?
Get a place outside of town. Santa Fe is full of men who’ve moved there to get into their sandals and release their artistic selves. Or try Buenos Aires. It’s a different, much lustier experience.

Did talking to these women make you think about making changes of your own?
Yes. I’ve been inspired to be much more daring—letting my hair grow a little longer, learning how to do a chair dance for my husband.

Are there any sexual fantasies you feel you still need to fulfill?
I’m getting more and better tapes in my head now from listening to other women.

Any desire to act on those tapes?
I’m very much devoted to my husband, but I expect, like most women, I’ll have some years alone. And I’m far less afraid of those years than I was before.

Sex and the Seasoned Woman
Random House. $25.95.

Passage Marker: Gail Sheehy