"A few words about elder sex" is the title of a recent post by my favorite senior blogger Ronnie Bennett, author of the popular "Time Goes By" blog. I was more than a little surprised to find that this gay man was agreeing with much of what a straight "crabby old lady" (as she describes herself) has to say about elder sex and the role it plays in her life.
Her essay prompted a few thoughts which I'll share later. But now . . . Here's Ronnie:
There's a media taboo about this subject – elders and sex – and even though demographic changes are beginning to produce a slowly growing body of film, television and books with elder lead characters, they are not having much sex. Too icky, I think, for people not yet old who produce these works.
There are a few websites devoted to elder sex. They usually are selling books and the copy is too often more graphic than I am either comfortable with or need.
Six or seven years ago, Gail Sheehy, who gained fame in the mid-seventies with her book Passages, published Sex and the Seasoned Woman announcing that the new generation of old women is committed to a passionate second half of life that includes lots of sex.
Hurray for them, but as I mentioned at the time, I doubt that the women who, in their youth, marched for civil rights, women's rights, against the Vietnam War, burned their bras, adopted “the pill” as their own when it was new and went on to win previously unheard-of consideration and rights in the workplace need either permission for or instruction about sex in old age.
I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in having a lot of practice. For most of my adult life sex was near or at the top of my list of compelling interests, so much so that I now wonder how I managed to get anything else done.
Although I didn't marry again after my divorce at age 30, there were a couple of long-term relationships, plenty of short-term liaisons and some friends with privileges along with two or three romances so beautiful they can still break my heart when they come to mind.
Every one of those involved lots of sex. Lots of good sex and that is usually what I find wanting in discussions I've seen of elders and sex - that the goal is, as when we were young, quantity. I find that to be - well, juvenile thinking.
Sex was a big part of my life so I was saddened when, 12 or 15 years ago, I realized that I had stopped thinking about it every day. Over a period of time, the urge for an activity that had reliably and regularly given such enormous pleasure drifted away and I mourned that loss and with it the sense I had of myself as a hot, sexy chick.
As it does, time helped me come to terms with my new, older, less sexual self and I came to see that I had never understood how completely hormones controlled my behavior for so long until they didn’t anymore. It has been a welcome relief to be free of that.
Which is not to say sex has completely died for me. These days it naps, hardly noticeable for extended periods of time until there is an object of desire. What's nice about that is there is (or would be should someone of that description turn up) so much less carnal urgency than when I was young. There is time now to know one another first than was always true in the past.
There is an abundance of terrible jokes about performance in old age – or lack thereof. Generally, I don't like them because they are of a piece with late-night comedians' diaper jokes that rob elders of their dignity.
For ourselves, however, certainly at our ages we are grown up enough to take sometimes waning capability into consideration (with or without little blue pills). There are all kinds of nice, feel-good things two naked people can do together that are fun and express their feelings for one another.
I think that's something the television commercials for Cialis leave out – that the central act is not always what's paramount in old-age sex. Coziness and warmth and affection and love too, when it is there, count for a lot – more even than when we were young and horny all the time.
That is a decent-sized hole in my aged single life. There is no one to touch or who regularly touches me. Sexual or friendly - both, actually – touching is a powerful kind of human connection that single old people hardly ever have, or have enough of, and I don't know an answer for that.
Returning to the media for a moment, on the rare occasion elder sexuality is discussed in books, magazines and online (intelligently or stupidly), it is almost exclusively aimed at women.
Can it be that because men have Viagra and Cialis, no one believes there is anything more to say to them? Can that be so?
Ronnie is about to celebrate her 72nd birthday. I'll soon turn 84. The waning interest in sex that she describes is akin to what I'm experiencing today. It is not where I was 10 years ago.
My 70s might well have been the decade when my sex life was the most enjoyable. Perhaps "the most comfortable" might be a better description. The obsessive/compulsive sex flame that had been set much too high in my earlier years was turned down low in my 70s. The enjoyment was still there but having sex and seeking sex didn't dominate my life as it had in the past.
The difference between Ronnie and me is in part a result of our genders. The male is programmed by Mother Nature to be the seed spreader while the female is the nester. As a result, men are more preoccupied with sex than women and the sex drive lasts longer.
A heterosexual friend once asked me why gay men have more fun than straight men. (By "fun" he clearly meant "sex.") I watched the light bulb go on when I replied, "it's men dealing with men." Men being men is why sex is always more readily available to gay men than it is to straight men . . . regardless of age.
While this is true generally, individual men and women can have sex lives that depart from the norm. Not exactly a brilliant observation.