Dr. Pepper Schwartz - a Northwest Original

August 29, 2023 at 9:00 a.m. | Updated February 1, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Dr. Pepper Schwartz is Professor of Sociology at the UW. She is also AARP’s relationship ambassador and has written 16 books on the dating habits and sensuality of couples and singles Photo © PerfectMatch.com
Dr. Pepper Schwartz is Professor of Sociology at the UW. She is also AARP’s relationship ambassador and has written 16 books on the dating habits and sensuality of couples and singles Photo © PerfectMatch.com

This article about Pepper Schwartz was featured on our cover in February of 2012. Over the past calendar year, it has been one of the most viewed articles on our website.

Where to begin when discussing nationally renowned relationship expert Dr. Pepper Schwartz? S–E–X is a great place to start!

Got your attention? Dr. Pepper, as she is affectionately known, has been a highly respected Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington since 1972. A local and national television commentator, prolific columnist, and researcher with fifty scholarly articles to her credit, the award-winning sociologist is also author of sixteen books and counting. AARP claims her as its official Relationship Ambassador with a mission to improve the lives of 50+ audiences by enhancing their relationships with advice on everything from sex and health to communication and dating. Dr. Pepper can even be called a professional matchmaker through her close association with Redmond-based PerfectMatch.com, a leading Internet dating and relationship site. She is the relationship expert on Married at First Sight, airing on A&E and FYI. 

Oh yes… She has also been dubbed a sexologist and is proud of it.

Why wouldn’t she be? Dr. Pepper, 66, is a serious academic with a serious gift for connecting to popular audiences. In part, as an article in The New York Times proclaimed, because she specializes in a subject the entire world cares about. “I always wanted to study matters that were important to people in their everyday lives,” she says, “and frankly, what’s more basic than sexuality?”

The article likened her to Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw with a doctorate. “Carrie Bradshaw would think of me as a pretty strange animal,” she laughs of the comparison. “I don’t care for shoes or fashion, but hopefully that sense of her as a thoughtful commentator on today’s culture and relationships might ring true.”

Outside of work, Pepper Schwartz has a long-term relationship with a man she met online, has two grown children, Cooper and Ryder, is a world-traveler, and live-in owner of a working horse ranch in Snoqualmie (rosebudriverranch.com) where she breeds Rocky Mountain horses and holds the occasional corporate event.

Born in Chicago in 1945, Pepper says her childhood was “pretty great. My parents were married for 55 years. I had a dog, went to camp and loved school. I was athletic and a cheerleader in high school.” Her two brothers were quite a bit older, “so I felt like an only child. I was very close to my mother.”

Her warm, natural connection to others, her ability to educate and perform—whether for students in the classroom, television audiences, or magazine and Internet readers—was evident from the time she was young. “I wanted to be a musical comedy actress. I did summer stock and loved being in front of an audience.

“I’ve always been front and center. Even as a kid, I was very opinionated and vocal and undaunted by reactions,” she said in an interview with the University of Washington alumni magazine. When she was ten, she even organized a parent-approved sex education group in her basement.

“I’ve been studying relationships and sex since Adam and Eve,” she quips. “When I first started in academics I focused more on relationships and my Ph.D. thesis was on dating. But then I found myself as a T.A. in a class on sexuality.” She notes that the women’s movement was just starting again back then, and her interest was motivated in part by myths about women’s sexuality. “That got me started on exploring the truth. I ended up putting together a ‘how to’ book for students.”

Finding her way to Seattle was a happy accident. Armed with a Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale University and a promise to her husband that she would aim for a job on the West coast, she received an offer from the University of Washington sight unseen.

“I got this job offer from out of the blue,” she says. “The early 70s was a lucky time for women in academia. [Universities] were feeling guilty about having discriminated, and everyone was looking for women since they had none when I came on the job market.”

She liked Seattle from the moment she arrived on a summer day. “It was so beautiful and I thought, ‘Oh my god, where has this place been hiding!’ I hate to admit it, but before I moved here, I didn’t even know where Seattle was on a map. But I immediately liked the spirit of the place. I’d come from the East coast, which was all about the past. Here it was filled with energy and possibility. It was all about the future.”

While the marriage didn’t last, the job at the UW did, where her work is still going strong after nearly 40 years. “In my department [Sociology], I have been here just about the longest. It is a good, supportive home for me. It’s a highly rated department and I am very proud of it.”

On her two marriages: “The first marriage lasted about six seconds,” she says. “We were too young and both realized we weren’t ready to be married. But he helped get me to Seattle, and it was an easy, friendly ending.” She was later married for 23 years to the father of her children. “Art and I do well together. We remain friends and I like his wife, too.”

Her most recent book, Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex, Love and the Sensual Years (HarperCollins, 2007), has been described as a frank, shocking, courageous memoir. “It is the only personal book that I’ve ever written and the only book I’ll ever write about me,” she says. “My editor at the time suggested, ‘What readers really wanted to know is about your life.’ At first I was taken aback, but then thought, ‘It can be powerful to talk from an emotional perspective about sexuality throughout the life cycle of the 50s, 60s and beyond.’ ” At the time she began writing the book she was single. “As I was writing I thought to myself, ‘Oh no, what have I done. No one will ever date me again after this book comes out!’ But you have to be honest and it has always been important to me to be romantic and sexual and in a relationship.” The book got a lot of press and she was a little worried about potential backlash. “But people came up to me and told me what a difference it made in their lives.” Though told from a personal perspective, the book also provides insight for women in their 50s and beyond about relationships and sexuality in their advancing years. “The heartfelt thanks I received and the feeling of making a difference felt good.” In fact, many of her 16 books have struck a positive chord with the public.

Dr. Pepper is in the process of writing two more books. On Perfect Places for Passion and Romance at Any Age, with Dr. Janet Lever (to be published later this year by Frommers and AARP), she is collaborating with her son Cooper. “He runs a travel business called His and Hers, and is helping me with research.” Another book, with Chrisianna Northrup and Dr. James Witte, The Normal Bar (coming out in 2013), will be based on surveys from around the world and will help people understand how their “normal” of navigating in today’s society compares to others. [NOTE – there is still time for you to take the series of entertaining, interactive surveys and be part of the study – visit www.thenormalbar.com.]

Does she have any more thoughts for Northwest Prime Time readers? “As people get older and they think about dating or sex, it can be very hard to pick up that part of your life if you haven’t looked at it for years,” she says. “People may have been married for a very long time, or widowed or divorced. It is quite different to contemplate now than when they were young. Issues of insecurity about how you look or how your body will function and what constitutes good love-making at this period in your life cycle… People can be clueless because these are not things they’ve talked about before,” She pauses, and then adds, “They may have a different set of permissions and inhibitions now, but they are also wiser. It can be a great time of life.”

She believes in lifelong learning and encourages everyone, no matter their age, to keep challenging themselves and learning new things. “It is so different for us than it was for our parents. There is so much more medical support and information available now, and we have strength in numbers. I think this is a very innovative part of life, and we are lucky to be the ages we are at this time in history.”

For more information about Dr. Pepper Schwartz visit https://pepperschwartz.com/. You can access her advice columns about love, relationships, dating and sex at www.aarp.org, and at PerfectMatch.com

This article appeared in the February/March 2012 issue of Northwest Prime Time, the Puget Sound region’s monthly publication celebrating life after 50.

Photo courtesy https://pepperschwartz.com -- check out her website for photos with her family and other updates since this article was first posted more than 11 years ago

Pepper Schwartz is live-in owner of a working horse ranch in Snoqualmie alongside Mt. Si

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