WASHINGTON - The generation that promoted free love has grown old and cranky about sex.
Faced with performance problems, menopause blues and an increased mismatch of expectations between the sexes, baby boomers are the unhappiest Americans of all when it comes to making love, a new Associated Press-Life GoesStrong.com poll shows.
Only 7 percent of people between 45 and 65 describe themselves as extremely satisfied with their sex lives. And nearly a quarter of the boomers say they're dissatisfied.
"Older people can learn new tricks," said Ruth Westheimer, the sex therapist better known as Dr. Ruth. Aging men and women need to work on being "sexual literate - to really know what they need, what their partner needs and how to pleasure each other," she said.
The findings represent a stark turnaround for the group of Americans who spearheaded the sexual revolution, coming of age as birth control became readily available, premarital sex gained wider acceptance and abortion was legalized. Boomers also were many of the AIDS epidemic's first victims.
Younger and older people report better feelings about their sex lives. Some 24 percent of boomers say they're dissatisfied, compared with only 12 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds, 20 percent of those 30-44 and 17 percent of those over 65.
Perhaps the boomers have given up on experimenting. A surprising number of baby boomers feel they've learned just about all there is to know about sex, nearly three in five women and half of men. But if women are wiser, men are more disgruntled. Twenty-eight percent of men between 45 and 65 are dissatisfied, and more than two in five say sex got worse in the last decade.
Part of the explanation seems to lie in different sexual expectations. Men are often more eager - at least mentally, if not physically - as more women become uninterested. Nearly half of the men say their partners don't want sex often enough, while only 17 percent of women feel similarly let down.
The story is different when it comes to action, as men are the underperformers. The poll finds two in five men between 45 and 65 having problems with sexual functioning. Only 19 percent of women boomers say the same. For both genders, less than half received treatment.
"Men certainly do tend to have higher sex drives," said Debby Herbenick of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University. Westheimer blamed the male/female mismatch on mass culture and its misleading messages about a healthy sex life, especially for aging men. "The media makes it sound as if everybody should have sex from morning to night," she said. "That's not realistic."
One of the starkest differences between the sexes deals with fantasizing. Seventy-two percent of the boomer men thought about having sex with someone other than their sexual partner at the time. Less than half of the women admit similar mental wanderings.
The AP-LifeGoesStrong.com Poll was conducted Oct. 1-10 by Knowledge Networks in California. It involved online interviews with 945 people between 45 and 65, as well as companion interviews with an additional 587 people aged 18-44 and over 65. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all adults, 3.9 percentage points for adults 45-65.