There are several people online who write blogs, columns and books about sex for old people. You won't see much about them here.
It's not that I don't think sex is important in old age – without question, it is. Well, except to young people who think it's icky. (They'll get over that as they they reach old age.)
The reason I ignore those writers is that for me, sex is too intimate, too magical to – as it were – have the clinical details laid bare in print and images along with all the silly names for our private body parts.
For me, reading step-by-step instructions is too much like finding out how a magician does his tricks. I prefer to hang on to the mystery of discovering one another's longing and need, urgency, pleasure and release that, even after years of “practice,” is – or can be, if you do it right - new again each time.
That does not mean I object to pornography. It's fine with me, just not for me. Been there, done it, didn't get turned on. Next.
I have read that indifference to pornography is not uncommon to women, or maybe it's just me. That doesn't matter. Whatever works is fine. I'm for more sex for everybody with the single necessity that no one is ever forced.
Further, I'm pretty sure that most people reach old age having learned a great deal about sex and probably don't need instruction. But if they do, those sex for old people writers serve a purpose. I just wish they didn't sound so Cosmopolitan magazine-ish, so adolescent.
All that is lead-in to telling you about a story I read at Salon a few days ago with the hard-to-resist title, What I Learned From Teaching a Sex-Writing Class, by Steve Almond.
They teach this stuff?
Apparently so. The last thing I expected from the essay was that it had anything to do with elders and sex. Almond first explains how he begins his classes by asking students to write
”...the worst sex scene they can. I specifically instruct them to make it graphic and to use crude language, including as many absurd genital euphemisms as they can stomach. Shining shaft of manhood. Candy shop. Secret garden. Sperm puppet. You get the idea.”
After they have finished writing, students are required to read their sex scenes to the class. He describes several of the stories and then,
”The most striking scene of all came from a woman I’ll call Estelle. By her own estimation, Estelle was half a century older than the rest of the students. She was frail and soft-spoken and I would later learn that she had fallen on the stairs leading to the classroom.”
Estelle tells Almond that she is too shy to read her scene aloud but the younger students gently prod her to do so.
”What emerged was miraculous: a heartbreaking scene between an elderly couple in a museum,” explains Almond.
“The woman is full of suppressed longings. She fantasizes about going back to their hotel room and lying back on the bed and letting the man part her legs and her sex. She can’t express these desires out loud, though, so instead, when they get back to their room, the sexual act focuses on the man and his failure to achieve an erection.
“After a long and mortifying effort, the woman manages to bring him off. Her own needs are completely ignored.
That's when Almond's essay gets interesting. For a few paragraphs, he almost forgets the topic of sex writing and talks about what it means to be human in this regard.
“After she finished reading,” he continues, “Estelle glanced around the room sheepishly. I can’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this:
“'I came here today because I want people to know that elderly people still have desires. Nobody wants to think about it. But we do. I live in a retirement community where it’s mostly women and the men are sort of beat up. But we still have needs. We still need to be touched.'”
A friend of mine calls this need – that is both sexual and not sexual - “touch hunger” - the idea that when, through death, divorce or other circumstance, we live without a partner in old age, we can feel our skin longing, even aching for the touch of another person.
In 2013, without knowing the phrase yet, I wrote about touch hunger here and that I had found a partial remedy for myself in massage. It helps a lot but it is expensive, more than many elders can afford frequently or at all, and as good at it is, it's not the same as what Estelle is talking about.
She is, of course, exactly right: “We still need to be touched" and the operative word there is "need." I believe it is a health issue and it's too bad Medicare doesn't cover a monthly or even bi-monthly massage.
(Note to self: a gift certificate for a massage to single, aging friends is an excellent idea.)
At The Elder Storytelling Place today: Anita McCune: Surprise! Surprise!