AARP Woodstock: Sex & spirituality

So, if you were a college senior and you went to Woodstock, how old would you be today? It's hard not to think about questions like that one while reading the Washington Post report about a new AARP sex survey, yet another story that demonstrates that there is nothing about Baby Boomer life that will escape newspaper headlines. Guess what? The boomers still love sex and they still believe that they are bravely going where no generation has gone before. Here's a sample:

Table 13: Attitudes Toward Sex by Age and Gender.

"I love sex," said Judy Lear, 66, national chair of the Gray Panthers, the intergenerational advocacy group for social justice and peace, when reached by telephone in New York City. "I thinks it's fun, I think it's great. I think it's a really positive thing. I'm single, divorced; I have a very nice gentleman here in New York City. I don't want to be married, I don't want to live together, but I do like to have sex. We have this wonderful relationship."

Lear could be the liberated-and-loving-it poster lady of a certain age for this new report, titled, "Sex, Romance, and Relationships: AARP Survey of Midlife and Older Adults," based on a survey taken in August 2009.

So what, if anything, makes this a GetReligion story? Is there a religion ghost in here somewhere? After all, debates about sexual morality in an American context almost always include a religious component. Hold on to that thought.

As you would expect, the AARP survey also revealed that the Baby Boomers are very much a "spiritual" generation. Thus, we read that (gasp) some things are more important than sex:

Across most gender and age categories in the survey, folks actually place "a satisfying sexual relationship" behind other keys to quality of life, including, in descending order of importance: "being healthy," "financial security," "close ties to friends and family," "personal independence," "spiritual well-being," "good relationship with spouse/partner" and "being productive and contributing." One exception is the youngest category of males, of course, age 45 to 49. They place good sex ahead of spiritual well-being.

That's nice.

No, it was another part of the story that most interested me, when it comes to looking for hard-news content linked to religion. Read between the statistical lines in this passage:

The researchers found that baby boomers, those sons and daughters -- also older brothers and sisters -- of the sexual revolution have gotten older, and their sexual mores have aged up with them. Key finding: The percentage who think you must be married to have sex has dropped by almost half in 10 years, from 41 percent to 22 percent.

That's not an endorsement of infidelity. Only one in five men and one in 10 women in this age group admit to cheating on a partner. Rather, it's an assertion of sexual freedom among widows, widowers, divorced people or folks who never married.

This is interesting for several reasons.

First of all, it has long been an assumption that most people become more conservative/traditional as they get older. Apparently, this does not apply to Boomers.

Second, several decades of reading Gallup, Barna and Pew Forum polls about religion in America have convinced me of the following. About 10 percent of all Americans are consistently liberal, when it comes to matters of culture and religion. Somewhere between 12 and 17 percent (depends on the poll and the questions) are attempting to live in a "conservative" way that, in one form or another, is rooted in a religious tradition.

In between, as I like to say, is OprahAmerica, the world of doctrinal Truthiness, emotions, experiences, feelings and doctrine that is evolving to fit the modern world.

Now, put one other number into that mix. How many Americans say they have been "born again" or give some other indication that they are linked to the vague world of evangelical or charismatic faith? That number tends to be somewhere around 35 percent or maybe a little higher. Once again, this depends on the wording.

This brings us back into "tmatt trio" territory. Remember the three questions that, as a mainstream reporter, I used to ask to find out who is who during battles inside Christian flocks? Here are those questions once again:

(1) Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

Now, what percent of the AARP seniors said that sex outside of marriage is wrong and, thus, we might say "sinful"? That would be 22 percent.

Now, subtract this 22 percent number from that vague "born-again Christian" statistic of somewhere between 35 and 40 percent. Interesting, huh? Once again, let me argue that the development of a true "evangelical" and/or "charismatic" left in the post-Boomer era is one of the most under-covered religion-news stories in this day and age.

You see, the tmatt trio questions are even relevant when you are hanging out at a dinner for evangelical senior citizens (especially if anyone there went to Woodstock).

Photo: Yes, I confess that I am a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fan (especially of the jazzy acoustic 12-string folk-rock of David Crosby).

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