ELDER MUSIC: 1962 Again
Life Expectancy at 65 Increases

Elder Touch Hunger

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!


I read somewhere that hugs are great but not enough if you want the endorphins to function.

It said a 20 second hug will make all the difference. I have tried it and it is true--for me anyway.

"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." One of the best, and more erotic, descriptions of good sex that I've read in a long time.

I think that touch hunger is not limited to the elderly.

In most cases, when I engage in a conversation or even just to ask a question, with one of my fellow residents here at the ALF, I always gently place my hand on their shoulder or pat their back. This does as much for me as I hope it does for them. Touch, even if only passive, is very important to the human condition. As far as sex around here is concerned, Just let me say that the pool table downstairs has been used for other things besides pool.

I am not speaking about sex in this comment, but rather just the longing for human touch.

Pets and grandchildren are an excellent place to look for hugs and kisses.

Being untouched is a burden of living alone. I have my grandkids to hug and snuggle with and it means the world to me.

Thanks for writing about this important topic. I read Steve Almond's article and liked it. Here's an area to really change as we boomers age up- how can we get our sensual and sexual needs met when we're single? Or even married (as I am) as our bodies change in their abilities but not their needs.

1)I actually began reading this blog a couple of years ago in the hope that sex would be mentioned along with so many other aspects of older life. Today i learned why the dearth of items about sex, but at least i learned where to go to read and learn about same.
2)June is exactly right; the need for touch is not limited to the aged.
3)Cosmo is a GREAT place to learn more, every month, about what will excite and satisfy you and your partner! Just blank out what YOU think are the icky parts and translate it to apply to an older couple, gee whiz.
4) Bruce has the right idea about touching when talking; it's a thing we non-touchers need to just get over.
5) oh give me a break on the ping-pong table :-)

Last night I attended a beautiful formal wedding and sat next to the grandfather of the bride. He lost his wife of over 60 years just two weeks ago. He was bravely trying to bear up and not spoil everyone's happiness, but I noticed him wiping away tears. I reached over and touched him and he smiled and recovered. While this was not a sexual gesture, it does show how very important just a touch can be. So much meaning is given in a single touch. No words need to be spoken.

I was sad, thinking this is just another examples of elders dealing stoically with the difficulties heaped upon them...and then I thought of Catholic priests. And others for whom intimate touch from another human being is unavailable. And then I figured massage is looking better all the time.

A few years ago at an advanced square dancing class an older dancer told me that one of the reasons that she square dances is the chance to be held.

We do never lose our need to be touched. I was so aware of this on a recent trip to England with my husband.

It was the annual reunion of a group he's belonged to for decades, and most of the members are in their 70's and 8o's.

There were many hugs and kisses--along with many wonderful stories--on arriving and leaving. It was wonderful. We plan to go back next year.

My husband died almost 25 years ago. Some months afterwards I attended a movie on my own. In the foyer, I met a much younger male friend. He suggested that we sit together. He was wearing a very nice shirt with sharply pressed creases in the long sleeves. As we sat side by side in the theatre, his sharply pressed sleeved touch me - and I silently squealed with delight. I had been touched - by a man. Well, at least the shirt being worn by a man. I had read a book about touch some years before and I knew exactly what was going on: my body was responding joyously, innocently to the sense of being touched. It is said - and it is true - that for many of us who are older the only people who touch us are those giving us professional services: the doctor, the dentist, the hairdresser etc. I wish this knowledge of touch was more widespread throughout our community.

Hugs are absolutely necessary, especially when they come from someone who you love or like a whole lot.

Massage is wonderful and I wholeheartedly agree. I wish I could afford it more often.

One more thing about touch. A study was done a few years ago at Cornell U's School of Hospitality Management. The college actually runs a restaurant where students serve as managers and servers. The study showed that female servers who were told to gently touch a male customer on the shoulder received bigger tips than those who were instructed not to do so.

When I was a young nun teaching biology, I showed a film to my (female) students about the "Failure To Thrive Syndrome" in which toddlers raised by mentally ill parents had been left in their cribs alone, touched only occasionally when their diapers were changed or when they were bathed. These toddlers looked and acted like young babies! Therapy consisted of becoming bonded with one caregiver, gentle touches only as the little ones allowed them, and eventually they grew and matured, at least physically. So, so sad. My point is that loving touch is not only a psychological need but a physical one.

When I imagine losing my husband (of five years), I cannot fathom how I will live without him putting his arms around me in the middle of the night. Longing for this sort of loving touch led me out of the convent, and even though my first marriage was to a difficult person and ended in divorce, the bit of affection he gave kept me in the marriage for 26 years until he left.

My current husband and I are always touching each other lovingly and I dread losing him. Here's a question: do the memories help you keep going after losing one you love?

O yes. I was last on the seniority list at my old high school, so naturally the principal announced I would be teaching Sex Ed.

Sure, whatever you say.

Sex Ed. The only subject where students begged for homework.

Teaching sex ed while having Mount Vesuvius hot flashes, was all Johnny Cash.

"I fell in to a burning ring of fire."

"Johnny, would you mind running down the hall and breaking that fire extinguisher off the wall."

"Sure, Miss H., but shouldn't I roll you in the curtains first?"

Sue in the back corner.."Miss, it's my turn to pull the fire alarm."

"And it burns, burns, burns, the ring of fire..

Jet lag did it. Not me.

Not my clumsy hands on the tablet keyboard.

I could kill that tablet.

My real name is doctafill not soctadill.

I kinda like soctadill though.

There was a recent post here about Joan Price and her books, Naked at Our Age, and Sex at Our Age. Here's the Senior Planet link: http://seniorplanet.org/tag/sex-at-our-age/

I have had to make do with hugs from friends and family and massage for many years. It sucks to not have a lover in sight.

Here are the lyrics to a beautiful song by the late folksinger Utah Phillips:

(Bruce Phillips)

Touch me when I'm reading
Touch me when I'm working
When I'm not looking,
Surprise me with your hand
And lightly, without thinking, touch me

Sometimes when I'm turning
Brush me with your fingertips
Know me with your tenderness,
Not always, but now and then
And lightly, without thinking, touch me

I've never asked with words before
I've said it all in reaching
I've told you with my holding,
But now my arms are aching
So lightly, without thinking, touch me

Touch me through the darkness
And all my secret places
Lift me from my sleeping,
Recall me from my dreaming
And lightly, without thinking, touch me

Soctadill - can't imagine 95% here haven't figured it was you, regardless of the reason. Hope you got some good catch-up sleep.

Touch and music, I think, are human needs throughout the world. They take us into marvelous realms...

I am one of those non-touchers. I was emotionly neglected as a kid. I have been working on trying to over come this for 30 years. I have to work at it all the time. When someone hugs me I am thrilled.

There are tears in my eyes reading these comments. I have been married, both happily and unhappily. I have been single and touch-starved, both young and old. It is a universal human need, part of our need to feel connected. We do not give enough thought in our society to appropriate touching, how to better give and receive it. I am going to think on this more and try to practice it in my day to day living. Thank you for this post.

I've always shied away from touch. Arms-length seemed best.

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