Scrabbling Back From a Dark Night of the Soul
Guest Blogger: Darlene Costner

Aging, Femininity and Sex Toys

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The folks at the Elder Abuse blog have honored Time Goes By with their Blogger of the Year Award. In doing so, they have linked to each chapter of my "mom series" - A Mother's Last Best Lesson - which recounts the time I spent caring for my mother during the last months of her life and is the story I am most proud of writing. I'm proud of this award too. Please do stop by their site.]

Not infrequently over the years, people have described me as “one tough broad” implying that I express some of what are usually considered masculine traits. (If only those folks knew how squishy I am inside.)

On the other hand, many years ago, after I had made the morning transition from just-awakened horror hag to fully coifed and war-painted working woman, the man of the moment in my life said, in all seriousness and as a compliment, “I’ve never known another woman as feminine as you.”

It is always interesting to learn how we are perceived by others and that moment stuck with me. I pondered what he might have meant for a long time eventually deciding it was not the externals he was commenting upon (although they were part of it), but my inherent, inborn female-ness that is as immutable as the rising sun. It is what I am.

I have never questioned my female-ness and more, relish the biological manifestations of being a woman with fascination and even, sometimes, awe: the breathtaking beauty in the roundness and curves of women’s bodies; the sense of primal connection to the natural order of the universe in menstruation. The sudden swings in body temperature and other phenomena of menopause amazed and amused me.

In recent years, it has been interesting to watch my body’s transition to an outwardly more neuter appearance while my internal femininity remains steadfastly intact.

This came to mind recently when Lia of Yum Yum Cafe, told me that a friend wondered what I would say about "combating the menopausal body changes women experience, the loss of femininity.”

“I told her that I didn’t really know what you would say on the matter," wrote Lia, "but I believed you wouldn’t give any bloody tips along the line of be proud [to] wear make-up; titillating tummy tucks with 50; botox, the wrinkle eraser; sex toys for the adventurous at heart and weak of bladder. Instead, I thought you might discuss how it is possible to still feel like a woman even though we are losing/have lost our sense of femininity.”

She was so right in her answer that I hardly need to say more except that I heartily endorse sex toys at any age if that is your pleasure.

In all the personal observations I make here at Time Goes By, I operate on the assumption that I am not unique. That is, if I experience something, so do many others, maybe even a majority, but perhaps it hasn’t been pointed out and that may apply to Lia's friend's question.

While I was still working full time, up until mid-2004, I didn’t notice any body neutering. New little jowls had developed, my mid-section had thickened and although I had stopped trying to force my body back into its age 25 form, I looked, to myself, as feminine as any woman, even occasionally sexy when I made the effort.

The change in my appearance since then has been swift. (That far-right photo in the banner is nearly five years old and needs updating.) Some of the change is due to allowing my hair to go gray and refusing to spend another moment ever in a hair salon. But most of it results from subtle shifts in my face that become apparent in all of us, I suspect, when we stop listening to the incessant marketing messages to be young, young, young forever.

In addition, a flat belly, slim hips and upturned, perky tits are long behind me and without knowing how the feeling came to be, I don’t care. As my mother once said (in the more frightening context of cancer), “What do I need breasts for. I’m 74, not 24.”

Attaining a more androgynous appearance as we get older allows us to move on to the new role nature intends for us in late life – that of elders with more concern for the world outside ourselves than the more ego-driven mid-years.

We don’t lose our femininity with menopause - that is, if we do not define femininity as sexual allure. In fact, I would argue, that our new position in life is super-feminine, the nurturing, instruction and, sometimes, wisdom we can pass on to those coming up behind us while being an example for their old age when it arrives.

We don’t need to “combat menopausal body changes.” We need to accept them as a signal that it is time to begin moving into a new stage of life. Now I’ll admit the culture we live in doesn’t give elders a lot of room to do that, but we can embrace it individually for the good of world around us and for our personal self-realization. The concerns of late life should be and are different from youth and midlife.

That doesn’t mean, in our private moments alone or with whomever we choose, we can’t still indulge in the pleasures of the flesh – with or without sex toys. And what’s more feminine than that?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Alice Pasupathi muses on the similarities between humans and bugs in
Ode to a Cockroach Killed While Trying to Get From Here to There.
]


Comments

If you are keeping score, I rate this among your better postings, Ronni. It may have been 20 years since I last felt, in the least, sexy; but, femininity is inherent to most of us women (and some men) through the ages. I would love to see your latest photo join the banner.

As usual, well done. Your writing is superb & as usual I mostly agree with you. I do however, really hate the age spots that have appeared on my face. I thought that since I have had a very olive complexion all my life it would always stay the same. Wrong! Mother Nature has left me with these "brown splotches" that aggravate me to no end. I'd gladly take another set of wrinkles. That said (call me grouchy, today), I just want you to know that I think the article written about caring for your mom should be required reading for all nurses. As a retired RN, I've seen so much evidence of changes in nursing practice, however death does not change, nor does the way we care for someone who is dying. Your writing says it all. Thank you for that & for the "green bananas" comment. Priceless. Thank you for being here, Ronni. Dee

How thoughtless of me........congradulations on the award which you so rightly deserve! Dee

Hah! I'm laughing out loud, Dee. After a childhood of despising my freckles, I accepted them in adulthood with the thought that when I got old, they would disguise age spots. WRONG!

Freckles and age spots don't look anything alike.

I would rather do without age spots, but not enough to try to do anything about them. I have no idea of those age spot creams really work and I'm disinclined to spend the time finding out. I need to post sticky-note reminders to take my vitamins each morning; I'd never remember to apply the cream.

God Bless ya Ronni! Congratulations on the award! I love your attitude in today's entry.

Congrats on the award -- no one deserves it more!!!!!

As to aging, I never thought of myself as sexy when I was young so I'm not too worried about it now. I confess to looking at the commercials for anti-aging make-up, creams, etc. and wondering if they work but I'll be damned if I'll pay the outrageous prices for it.

I'm happier with who I am and how I look than I've ever been in my 60 years and that's a good thing.

And a pox on anyone who tries to undermine that!

Congratulations on the award. Well deserved.

And, thank heavens you are back and writing.

Your answer to my friend's question was more than I could have expressed, even though there were threads of same thought somewhere in the pool of my menopausal being.

This is why it is important for you and the other bloggers included in the sidebar to keep writing. It presents an active forum to exercise your new position in life as "super-feminine, nurturing, instructors who sometimes, can pass on wisdom to those coming up behind us while being an example for their old age when it arrives".

I've been struggling to find the answer to my friend's question and now I just have to send her the link to your eloquently put answer.

I wrestle with all of this and still have not come to full acceptance of the change which I saw as beginning at 60 for me. I no longer dye my hair, haven't had a permanent or haircut in a year and a half; however, all of that was true at various times earlier in my life also. I can and do frequently cut my own hair, something I did again two weeks ago when I went back to bangs. It's not how much time it takes to for me but rather what is worth the effort? What makes for better quality living and a recognition of how life changes? Nobody can go back.

On the sun damage/age spots, they are easily removed but I don't know that any cream can do it. The first time I had one that I didn't like, I had visited a dermatologist for a different reason. It was in the days you could go in for one thing and say-- hey what can you do about this? What he did was use liquid nitrogen on that spot. It stung, turned it very dark and in less than a week, it was gone never to return. Later I learned that fotofacials (they go by different names), which I have had anyway for a skin problem, rosacea, also removes them like the liquid nitrogen had done years earlier. My husband had one treatment of it to take off a large one on his own face. When they are gone, they are gone, but hats and sunscreen help to avoid new ones forming. Fotofacials also sting a bit as it's an electrical light pulse. The cost varies depending on where you live and how much competition is in the area.

Congratulations, Ronni, on receiving the Blogger of The Year Award!!

You deserve it. I can't think of anyone else who would get hundreds of comments asking you not to give up your Blog..... You had us very worried and it showed.

Congratulations on your award, Ronni. You certainly deserve it. Your blog has enriched more lives than you can imagine.
As one of your oldest (in age)commentators I have to say the time comes when the age spots aren't that important. One's focus change from the loss of appearance to the loss of energy and weakness of joints and muscles. That's when you really know what old age is really like. It is limiting and takes away your feeling of independence. "Old age ain't for sissies."

Ronni, you looked great on an episode of PBS' Life Two about two weeks ago. Your style really works for you. You looked feminine, authoritative, and serenely age-appropriate. I like style if it improves our confidence but not when the media are hectoring us to strive to look "younger." It's a hard balance to find.


Great news about the award! You certainly deserve it.

And this is a wonderful post, not least of all because it demonstrates that you meant it when you said there would be some changes in TGB.

Nice work all around...

Congratulations--supremely deserved. Thank you so much for your response to this issue. I've felt more feminine since menopause than any time prior. I truly believe that this is because I now own my own body fully. It is not some object put on this earth for anyone else's pleasure but mine. I find it easier to resist the current strato-consumerism that attempts to make us feel ashamed of our aging bodies. I've grown out from under the old masculine-imposed stereotypes and shallow labeling, and feel freer than I ever have. I am appalled at what I see in the media that dictates a PhotoShopped, neutered idea of "beauty." Enough, or I will escalate into a three-day rant. :)

Mostly, I'm feeling heavenly relief that you are still among us and publicly fighting these fantasies and injustices.

Lots of cronely hugs,
Claudia

True femininity is ALWAYS sexy. ;^)

And has nothing to do with how you look, but with how you love.

Your lone male commentator so far shied away from the topic. My take on it is - if I can accept the way men look and act and feel in their "masculinity," then they, and everybody else, can acknowledge accept my "femininity" at whatever age I am.

Congrats on your award, well deserved.

I haven't spent much time thinking about my body changes as I age, except for the disappointment I've felt about losing the coloring of my red hair. Well, of course, it is a bit annoying that my eye lids droop a little. Then there are those creases, from too much laughing,I guess, but they make me look like a sour puss now. Yeah, I see veins on the top of my hands, surrounded by a few age spots. So, there's a little bit of extra flesh here and there, but you don't really want me to go on. It's just me. I still love me and if somebody else can't see past all that, then it's their problem.

Oh yeah, sex toys are an important tool of life at our age, I would say. Since you're writing about them, does that mean we're going to start seeing ads for some on this blog? If so, I hope you research them all well before you recommend them to us.

Congrats on your award!

Ronni, congratulations for this award that you totally deserve. And I think its timing is perfect too.

Body changes are not of much concern to me, but health problems are, like high blood pressure that apparently appears as we age. That's what I am most concerned about at the moment, not how I look, but how I feel. This post, as always, is so enlightening and brings so much food for thought.
Thank you.

Congratulations on the Blogger of the Year award. They gave it to the right person!!

I go along with every thing that Joared said about the physical changes except she said, "a little extra flesh here and there."

With me, it's more than a "little."

I am glad you are back Ronni.

Great post with lots to mull over.

First, I'd like to add my voice to all those congratulating you on your award!

I love this post. Once upon a time, I spent a great deal of energy and money on my appearance. How well I remember the day I looked into the mirror and realized that no matter what I did to that face in there, no one would ever again think it was pretty. It was just old, and that was that.

Menopause came along a bit later, delivering the second of the major one-two punches to my already bruised ego.

I'm still learning how to think of myself in this new body, still trying to figure out what it means to be female at this point in life. I'm just beginning to realize how liberating it is, this chance to reconsider, reinvent, redefine.

Look at all these wonderful welcoming notes filled with congratulations. Consider me applauding over here too. :)

Unfortunatly, I've had to do volumes more maintenance than I had ever planned after an early hysterectomy at 40. Lotions, potions, creams, and pills keep me a-moving. Acid rinses, lazers, and chemo has kept my over sunned skin on me. I'm very grateful that I still have my skin. Sometimees parts of us are high maintenance wheather we want them to be or not. Then again, I love surprising the children running the risque stores when I go to replace a worn out toy. Makes my day.

I cannot think of anyone who deserves that award more. Congratulations!!


"In addition, a flat belly, slim hips and upturned, perky tits are long behind me and without knowing how the feeling came to be, I don’t care."

Me either Ronni, and isn't it liberating??!!

Hi,
Congratulations on your award.

Its the first time I came across your blog. I went through several posts and really enjoyed reading.

Sham

Ditto on all the congratulatory comments.

Ditto on all the praise for this post as well. At 67, I still color my hair; I can't seem to find the courage to stop. Hair is such a metaphor for so many things that have to do with youth and vitality. Obviously, I'm having a hard time letting that last symbol go.

We need a young body and unlined face in youth because we don't have much else. As we mature and our experiences give us wisdom and compassion we develop a deeper kind of femininity.

Congrats on the award!

Terrific post too!

When I was a newly single post-menopausal lady in my late 40's and early 50's, I never felt more feminine and sexy and must say I also had the best sexual experiences of my life - part of this I'm sure is that I was finally free of a bad marriage, and just being comfortable with myself. (There is truth to the allure older mature women have to younger men, and I don't think that has much to do with a nubile youthful body but rather with a mature and sexy brain.)

Anyway, I've decided to age naturally and gracefully; and although there may be no men in my life.. I think our true femininity never diminishes for it resides in our hearts (and brains)..and there are always sex toys.

Congratulations Ronni on your award and it is richly deserved.

Me, too, Ronni. CONGRATULATIONS on the award. And thanks for coming back and sharing your delightful insights.

Congratulations! They picked the right blog to honor, and they picked the right person as well.

We have been aging since the moment we drew our first breath, so we need to get over being afraid of it and what it looks like. It is a normal, natural, and rewarding phase of our lives. We have learned so much, and have so much wisdom to share that I'm proud to be "older", an elderwoman, a wise woman, a crone....

I've just turned 65, but I don't feel any age at all. Perhaps because I developed Rheumatoid Arthritis at age 36 and had surgical menopause when I was 33, and all the aging changes started happening-- and it was devastating for awhile.

Then I got it - that I wasn't my body, I was part of something deeper, wider, and all-encompassing that my body resided in. I saw that I wasn't separate from anyone else, and began to accept who I was.

I accept my wrinkles as proof of the life I've lived and the wisdom I've acquired -- I earned them so I honor them.

I looked at my face, and I also have some of those age spots. In fact, the other morning I happened to look at my arms with an unfocused gaze and really saw those age spots and how beautiful they were, and I imagined I was turning into a magnificent leopard! Then my eyes re-focused and the magical moment was over, but the beautiful feeling has remained.

I guess I'm somewhat of a crusader for changing the perception around aging we have in this country. Your post about aging fits in perfectly with one of my latest posts on my Powerful Aging blog. Thank you for bringing up this subject. It needs to be brought out into the open.

Oh, and I agree with Darlene that a bigger problem is the loss of strength and functionality that starts happening after around age 40. We have a fitness studio that focuses primarily on the aging population and we've seen an 80 year old travel to Europe on her own when she once needed a companion and a wheelchair. Keeping ourselves fit is more important than worrying about how many wrinkles we have.

Excellent post, Ronni. You tell it like it is. I have reread your story about your mom's death and you deserve a lot more than that bloggers award. Maybe a Pulitzer.

I just feel the urge to write tonight thanks to what you wrote. I had a total hysterectomy when I was 39 and I think that was when I had a crisis (physically and later emotionally) of no longer feeling like a woman. I had 3 kids, but they were adopted at birth; I was unable to become pregnant. When I separated from my husband at 47 and began dating the following year, after a life time of being with one man, I found the sexy me returning, although I have always been an understated sexy. I'm told I look classy. Now that I'm 70, have survived breast cancer twice and I take medications which simply shut down hormones, I rarely feel "sexy" anymore, but there is no longer a significant other in my life either. I've gained weight and all the outward signs you describe of aging are what I'm observing in myself. I'm totally pro sex toys if that is what keeps us having orgasms, by the way. I think that's healthy, with or without a partner. And I feel comfortable dressing in the casual, hippie type clothes I'm most comfortable in--and that most men hate. I feel free to be the me I've morphed into, but I also feel a sense of loss about maiden and mother; I'm definitely a crone.

Our culture is just so darned hard on aging women. I was a recreational nudist for four years in my mid 50s and it was there that I learned that the majority of people's bodies are imperfect--and that most nudists are comfortable in their skins. I was much thinner then and I had both breasts but I often saw women with mastectomies totally nude and unselfconscious.

Though I never watch Tyra Banks, my SIL was watching one day when she had a female doctor demonstrating a plush toy-looking vagina. I stopped to watch for a while and thought to myself that I wish I had known about that part of my anatomy when I was a young girl and that the frankness about the female anatomy was acceptable. There are several links available on Google of that show. I didn't really "know" myself until the 1970s when I took a feminist psychology university class where we were all taught to do self pelvic exams with take-home speculums. By then I had had a lot of therapy, too. It was when I became a more aggressive partner in the marriage when everything seemed to fall apart for my husband.

So, these issues of feeling feminine, not just sexual, do follow us into our later years as well. I applaud you for bringing all this up; I have to revisit what it is that I'm feeling about myself as a woman these days. Proud, for one thing.

Congrats on winning the award! Well done and well deserved.
I've never likened looking good with aging and I think "looking good" is different for all of us. Call it vanity, but I still choose to get my hair cut and colored every 5 weeks. I still wear make-up outside the home and I still contemplate my apparel for certain events.
I've seen women in their 80's who also still sport a chic hair style, dress appropriately, wear a bit of make-up and just plain plain look good and feel good about it. So I'm convinced age doesn't have a thing to do with it. It's individual choice. These women just exude a positive confidence that somehow is transmitted to all in their presence.
I do know, I feel every bit as feminine following menopause as I did before. And as I've always said....whatever floats your boat.

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