Does Gail Sheehy Walk Her Talk?
The East Bay author touts the sexy side of being a "seasoned" woman
While women of a certain age debate whether cultural commentator Gail Sheehy is really onto something—or just on something—when she argues that their lives can be filled with passion and hot, steamy sex, an indelicate question arises: Has this 68-year-old grandmother got it going on? The author of Sex and the Seasoned Woman is happy to hold herself up as a “seasoned” woman who is enjoying all of life’s pleasures.
She certainly looks the part. During a book-tour swing through the Bay Area, she stopped in at Orinda Books, where more than 100 women came to hear her talk about living the passionate life. Dressed in a trim red suit, with her thick, blond hair cut in short, feathered layers,she looked at least a decade youngerthan she actually is.
Sheehy attributes her youthful vibrancy to working out, meditating,and finding creative and intellectual outlets in identifying, researching, and writing about social trends that resonate with the public. She’s written 15 books, including the best-selling Passages, which examined transitions we undergo throughout our lives.
With Sex and the Seasoned Woman, Sheehy focuses on the period of life between ages 50 and 75, which she calls women’s Second Adulthood. “In our First Adulthood, we are bound by our roles—student, apprentice, spouse, parent—and at pains to please those whose approval defines us,” she explains. “But after 50, we can finally be truly ourselves and pursue passions that bring us pleasure.”
Married to UC Berkeley journalism professor Clay Felker for 22 years, Sheehy, who divides her time between the East Bay and New York, says she likes to surprise him by unexpectedly showing up in Berkeley when she’s been off traveling the country doing research or promoting her books.
Another way they keep the spice in their marriage, she says, is by going out for romantic dinners at Chez Panisse or the Claremont Resort & Spa, and by taking trips to the Napa Valley and to their favorite romantic destination: the Umbria region of Italy.
Their already loving relationship took on a deeper meaning when Felker was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, Sheehy says.“When Clay was recovering from surgery, we couldn’t be physically close in the usual way, but we developed a powerful soul connection,” she recalls.
Some critics have questioned how clued in Sheehy is to the real lives of postmenopausal women. A writer in The New York Times Magazine said Sheehy’s depiction was fine—except for the fact that most single men over 50 are looking for women half their age. But others hail Sheehy’s book as a “must-read” for women over 50 and say it offers inspiring insights into all of life’s possibilities—post hot flashes.
Sheehy disputes the idea that women over 50 are no longer able to attract men.
The author describes how the initial concept for Sex and the Seasoned Woman came to her after she posted a questionnaire for women on her website. Next to the survey was a 19th-century Courbet painting of a naked woman lying on her back with a parrot on her finger and the mock statement, “Sex for women over 50 is for the birds.”
“I immediately received this deluge of responses from women who didn’t think that way at all and who went on to tell me how they were living their lives,” Sheehy says. While researching the book, she drove around the country and interviewed some 400 of the respondents.
“The common theme was that at some point in her late forties or fifties,a woman realizes she needs a new dream, because she’s going to live at least into her seventies, probably [into] her eighties,” Sheehy says. “I discovered a new universe of lusty, liberated women, some married and some not, who are unwilling to settle for the stereotypical roles of middle age.”