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Have Generation X women given up on sex?

I am not a fan of Erica Jong (b. 1942) or her new book, Sugar In My Bowl: Real Women Write About Sex. Her arguments run counter to what I believe but given her cultural status I wanted to write about her new book.

Jong is best known for her 1973 novel Fear of Flying, which “created a sensation with its frank treatment of a woman’s sexual desires.” Last Sunday’s New York Times featured an opinion editorial by her, Is Sex Passé? She writes that she “sometimes thinks the younger generation wants to give it (sex) up.” 

Jong is a member of the Silent Generation and Fear of Flying was primarily a cultural touchstone for Baby Boomer women. The younger generations she’s talking about are Millennials and Generation X.


“I was fascinated to see, among younger women, a nostalgia for ’50s-era attitudes toward sexuality. The older writers in my anthology are raunchier than the younger writers. The younger writers are obsessed with motherhood and monogamy…It makes sense. Daughters always want to be different from their mothers…

“…Generalizing about cultural trends is tricky, but everywhere there are signs that sex has lost its frisson of freedom…it seems sexual passion is on life support…

“…Just as the watchword of my generation was freedom, that of my daughter’s generation seems to be control…”

Relationship Dynamics

I agree with some of what Jong writes in this piece including the impact the Internet has had on privacy and intimacy. However, one impact on the sex life of Generation X women she did not explore is the relationship dynamics created between Generation X women whose earning potential and economic power has increased at the same time the earning expectations of Generation X men has decreased.

Also, while Generation X men are said to be far more child-focused than men of previous generations, I think part of the trade-off is that they are less wife-focused. This is partly because Generation X women are so independent, but also because Generation X men have not experienced the same degree of societal pressure or expectation to care for women as older generations of men.

For the Sake of the Children

Another possible reason Generation X and Y women may appear to have given up on sex is that they, along with their Gen X and Y husbands, are more motivated to stay married. Look no further than Susan Gregory’s recent article about Generation X a.k.a. children of divorce, which I recently blogged about.

Certainly, not all Xers and Millennials (Gen Y) agree with Jong. The writer of Raising My Boychick responded to Jong’s essay with a post about the fabulous sex she’s had while breastfeeding, etc. This was in response to Jong’s biting, “Better to cycle and write cookbooks. Better to give up men and sleep with one’s children. Better to…breastfeed all hours so your mate knows your breasts don’t belong to him…”

I never thought I’d hear an ardent feminist diss a woman for passionate breastfeeding.

Veiled Derision

Ultimately, Jong’s essay is in large measure veiled derision of Generation X women, who, by the way, are perpetually younger than Baby Boomers, but not “young” anymore. Her assessment that we are obsessed with monogamy and motherhood is an exaggeration intended to serve as a counterpoint to the well-documented argument that the pervasive self-centeredness of younger Silents and older Boomers helped create the most anti-child phase in human history. This phase produced the most neglected generation of children in modern history, and that generation is Generation X.


Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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  1. Anonymous

    i believe the primary cause is that generation x experienced an increase in their parent’s divorces…it created females with low self esteems who were promiscuous as teenagers, yet lacking libido when married b/c they never saw an example of how wives should sexually take care of their husbands.

    • Jennifer

      I’ve never really given this much thought, but initially I agree with part of what you’ve said — about the low self-esteem because of divorce. I would probably argue that at least part of the cause is the failure of Generation X men to launch fully into adulthood. This is what I hear from my friends. This, too, is based on divorce and a generation of boys who grew up without fathers and never learned to be husbands to their wives. It is so incredibly tragic. We’re going to see a lot of gray divorces with Generation X, I think. Thanks for your comment. I’ll continue to think on it.

  2. Anonymous

    Yeah, lots of talk about this recently. Classic Gen X’er here, married with young child. I don’t know one really happily married couple in their 40’s who are balancing careers, parenthood, managing a household, trying to pay bills, trying to save for college, retirement, remodeling (whatever…) and are having the best sex. It’s hard as hell to keep that flame going. And this life 101 stuff does not make for sexy times. How many of us have actually gone away without the kids? I can count on one hand the times I have.

    We all had experienced great sex in our teens and twenties, so this talk about racy sex in Erica Jong’s newest book is so passe, boring, and overdone. Great sex between committed partners is the best I agree. Who doesn’t remember the first couple of years with their spouse? Great stuff! But I don’t know one friend in her 40’s who is having a consistently awesome sex life right now. Maybe the ones who just started relationships and who don’t have kids. Having great sex while breastfeeding? Ugh, gross.

  3. Jennifer K

    Junkdrawer 67, in the world of media, “real women” are white, privileged (mostly boomers)women working in “glamorous” careers based in NYC, DC or LA. They also practice what I call, “Me and my friends” journalism, a lazy practice where you only talk to people just like yourself and call it evidence when it’s only anecdotal.

    And though I’m a white woman I am not real because I’m not privileged, I don’t work a glamorous career, I live in fly-over country and I’m not a boomer.

  4. jennifer

    @CGHILL the more I read her essay, the more annoyed I got. I can’t believe one of the most notorious feminists to ever walk the planet is actually dogging women for breastfeeding and monogamy – and calling it vinegar. Ugh.

  5. jennifer

    @JUNKDRAWER – True! True! And everytime I hear that ridiculous “real woman” phrase I think of that horrible song by Tricia Yearwood. “I’m a real life woman.” The song lyricist left off “…with 45-inch hips,” but that’s what she was going for. =/

  6. jennifer

    @LE – Oh, I love the way you think! Excuse me while I roll around in this comment – it’s like a shady patch of clover. =) Yes, it ebbs and flows. Like, who could possibly have been having sex during the warm-the-bottle-at-1-a.m.-2-a.m.-again-at-3-a.m. routine. I miss “chatting” with you, LE!

  7. jennifer

    @JENNIFER K – Also, I’ve written as have many others about the impact of AIDS on our generation’s sexual experimentation or lack thereof. Great point I totally forgot.

  8. jennifer

    @JENNIFER K I’m off to google the radish scene. Haha!! I do value mystery. Thus, I have deleted my kind husbands remarks. Sorry if anyone saw my accidental publication of them. Yikes! =)

  9. CGHill

    At 69, Jong is a bit too old to be a Baby Boomer, but she has the single most annoying Boomer characteristic: the idea that she and her contemporaries actually discovered the truth of the matter, whatever matter may be under discussion, and that neither previous nor subsequent generations could possibly understand.

  10. le@thirdontheright

    Hi Jen – you knew I’d have something to say about this … I agree with your earning and relationship comments – too true:) Also I think the comment re the bad sex or not earth shattering sex is true too. Also I think we are able to seperate the commitment and love from not just being all about the sex – why throw out a 9/10 great brilliant relationship if the sex is the only so so part. There is more to life …

    Also I think we know how to find the big O ourselves and sort that area so it doesn’t become the sole focus.

    Also I think we are just tired and in my opinion sexual intensity ebbs and flows … right now most of us have young ones and work and do domestics and the list goes on … so less sex and less intensity is no drama !!

    In my 14 year one on one relationship we have had amazing periods (first three years, some mid 30 years while trying for babes and another few years in my early 40s), dull periods (mostly due to my work stress) and slow periods(when we had babes 22 months apart)sexually speaking.

    But what hasn’t wanned is my passion for him as a man, husband, human being, father of our kids, lover … that is all the honey I need – I am his bee and he is my flower – hugs to you babe le xox

  11. Jennifer K

    “Oh no! Younger people are different than us!”

    Yes, I get it. Sex is groovy. But sometimes it’s good to show a little restraint and mystery. In the movie “The Lovers” Simone Signoret takes a bite out of a radish and it is a million times sexier than some in-your-face hyper sexuality that we now see in movies, commercials, music videos, etc.

    My friends and I do discuss sex, but it’s always in theory. We certainly do not go in full detail because that would be disrespectful to our significant others. Like I said, restraint and mystery are a good thing. I don’t care if your private parts are still fresh in the crate or should have “Over 6 Billion Served” stamped over them. Sometimes you just got to keep your mouths shut. Keep people guessing, right?

    Furthermore, X-ers also came of age just as AIDS was starting to affect our sexual consciousness. Kind of puts a damper on things, right?

  12. junkdrawer67

    Am I the only annoyed by the subtitle of this book: “real women write about real sex”

    Define “real women” and “real sex”

    What does that even mean anyway?

  13. Anonymous

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