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Steph Thompson Headshot

Aging Disgracefully: Sex as Discourse

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I saw him pushing his walker, on wheels, down the steep public library ramp.

"Do you need help?" I asked.

He looked up at me quizzically, his weathered face more wrinkled as he squinted against the sun, his full head of grey hair waving slightly in the wind.

"Are you good?" I said, changing the way I phrased the question so as not to embarrass him if he should be so stubbornly self-sufficient as the elderly often are, as I hope to be.

He stopped his slow careful descent and looked up at me then, checking me out from the bottom up, up my bare legs, up past my dress and on up my body. He mumbled something then.

"What's that?" I said, leaning slightly forward from my spot in the parking lot as I strained to hear him.

"Oh, just my usual ribbing," he said with the twinkle in his eye of a much-younger man. "I said, 'they say I am good...'" He winked at me then.

I gave him the big smile and laugh he was looking for, taking, as my mother always says, "the word for the deed..." and waved goodbye as I moved on.

In the car, my two young boys strapped in the back, I shook my head and laughed to myself. Really. From the first moment boys discover the connection between their penises and pleasure, it is almost all they think about, clearly until a ripe old age. Scary.

"No," a male friend, a 40-year-old, corrected me recently, "my penis is not ALL I think about. When I was younger it was maybe 10 times a minute, now it's maybe... three times an hour?!"
And people wonder why the porn industry is such a booming, growing trade. How, exactly, are people -- and not just those with penises -- supposed to reconcile their near-constant animal leanings toward the procreative act and the very real reality that sex is often not at all a constant? In fact, for many, not just "lonely" singles but for a fair amount of coupled folk, it is actually non-existent?

I met a woman recently who, after a few glasses of wine, said she was soon to be single. Her main reason? She and her husband had not slept together in 10 years. A full decade of nothing, barely a touch. She had stayed, she said, for the kids, and he supposedly had some mental and physical reasons for his ailment that she'd hoped for a long time he might work on and move past. But she'd given up hope. It was too much, too hard (or not hard enough, I suppose) and she wanted out. She was a vibrant 40-something, she had needs, and she wanted them met.

I don't typically ask, as it is not polite party conversation in Park Slope to talk to your married friends about sex, but a little information here and there has led me to the belief that people around me are not having nearly so much sex as they desire. Given my friend's assessment that he thinks about wanting sex about three times an hour, as much sex as one desires is probably not actually humanly possible. But, in the relative scheme, it would seem that people are not pushing themselves or their partners or potential partners to jump on the train nearly so often as they should so as to be even slightly sated.

There is a lot of talk about communication in our society, the need in a relationship -- any relationship -- for open, honest discourse. I would argue that intercourse, if it's good, is one of the best discourses a couple can have. Even as a writer, maybe especially as a writer, I can say with some assurance that sometimes words get complicated. Sometimes we cannot express what we really mean without getting caught up and confused and twisted around. Sometimes it is just best to get naked.

My friend with the walker never knew from texting in his youth, from Facebook or Twitter or the various and sundry forms of "communicating" that are now so quickly and handily replacing physical connectedness of the sort we sad-sack sexualized humans so crave. I hope very much that he was "good" and still has the opportunity to be. There is research afoot that says STDs are rampant in homes for the elderly and I say, more power to them. Might as well enjoy and go out with a bang.

I am scared less for this funny, honest, still-trying gentleman than for the generations who've come after, even mine, who I worry seem more and more caught up in the text-instead-of-touch trend, caught between political correctness and the fear of making oneself physically and, as a result, mentally vulnerable, even in the supposed safe zone of marriage.

At any age, clearly, it's natural to desire and want to be desired, and to do something about it.