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Thursday, 09 November 2006

Freedom From Sex

That the culture we live in is soaked in sex is not news. In addition to movies and television, it comes at us in song lyrics, magazine advertisements, billboards, newspapers and about 80 percent of the spam in my email inbox arrives with *****SEXUALLY EXPLICIT***** as the subject line.

Although I haven’t run across them yet in Portland, Maine, in my former neighborhood in New York City, sex toy shops display their oversized dildos and other erotic gear in windows next door to sandwich shops and movie theaters.

Also, it has been common for a long time that a day at the beach means a sea of bare bottoms, male and female, now that thong swimsuits are the number one choice of those with behinds worthy of exposure (along with some that are not). And I’ve never been comfortable with three or four inches of bare flesh between skirt top and shirt hem on young women in the workplace. But I’ve obviously reached the age of fogey Puritanism in that regard.

We are so swamped in all this public sex that although an argument can be made that it vulgarizes what is, at its best, a joyous human activity, it is not shocking.

Sex is used to sell everything from little girls’ underwear (thongs for five-year-olds is shocking) to cars and (plastic) surgery. But what it most sells is itself. As Mark Greif writes in the November issue of Harper’s magazine [not available on line]:

“One of the cruel betrayals of sexual liberation, in liberalization, was the illusion that a person can only be free if he holds sex as all-important and exposes it endlessly to others – providing it, proving it, enjoying it.”

Although Mr. Greif is making a different point in his piece, he and I agree that if there were true sexual liberation,

“…we would have also been freed to be free from sex – to ignore it, or to be asexual, without consequent social opprobrium or imputation of deficiency.”

This is particularly poignant for elders whose naturally waning libidos must be denied as aging has evolved into a condition or disease to be overcome instead of as a normal stage of life.

These days, elders are expected to “age well” which appears to involve remaining as sexually active as we were at 25 – or that is what the plethora of Viagra commercials would seem to imply along with the hundreds of questionable compounds, capsules and creams which promise to rejuvenate women’s interest in sex.

All this sex at every turn of our lives began with "the pill" and the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s and God knows I took every advantage of it with enthusiasm. When I first noticed a few years ago that sex had become less of a driving force in my life, I was sad to lose that "hot chick" definition of myself. After awhle, however, it was a relief to settle into a less hormone-driven life and now I wonder how I found time for all that bunny rabbit activity which, I realize in retrospect, was often no more than scratching a primal itch.

We are not all blessed (or cursed) with a high level of desire. It comes and goes throughout life depending on circumstances and it gradually diminishes as we get older. But nowadays, as Mr. Greif points out, the culture so overvalues sex that any elder (and younger person, too) who admits to less than total interest is viewed with suspicion and pity.

Jettisoning the shame and secrecy attached to sex in the past is undoubtedly a good thing. But when we stigmatize those who are not flaunting it, we devalue them unreasonably.


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 03:06 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Lucky you to get spam emails with warnings. The ones I receive aren't so accommodating.
Anyhoo, I'm with ya totally, Ronni, and would add a comment/question. What about the cruel coincidence of the new avoidance of hormone replacement therapy (used by so many wives to shore up their sex drive) with the availability of Viagara? I wonder about the effect on marriage among the older set and I'm SO glad it's not my problem, having ditched my 3 husbands in favor of cats.

Just wanted to say Thank you, Ronni for giving me the courage to start my own blog. I was amazed and overjoyed to see so many elder bloggers, the future is looking brighter by the minute.
I also took the liberty of printing out the poem, Crabby Old Lady and posted it up in several places at my Mom's long-term center.
I encourage everyone to read 'A Mother's Last, Best Lesson' in your sidebar. I'm lucky that I have the opportunity to sit with my mother and thank her for everything she thought me and everything I am.
Matty.

It's the loss of libido that leads us into wisdom.

Virginia: I've suspected that all along and on your "confirmation" decided to accept it now as fact.

Takoma Gardener: "...ditched my three husbands in favor of cats" got a laugh of recognition out of me this morning.

Our citizens are such hypocrites when it comes to attitudes about sex. I agree with you 100%, but truth be told we are victims of a capitalistic society. If it means $$$$$, it's in your face! Most Europeans are much more sexually liberated. One other thing that gets my old (fogey) goat is national TV! Try to find one show on the nat'l networks that is NOT about sex & I'll watch it. Thank goodness for PBS & the library! Dee

Hear! Hear! Brava! Wonderful post! I wholeheartedly agree and identified with all you wrote. I also don't like the display of skin you mentioned and especially with pregnant women. Sorry, but I'd rather not see that.

Virginia, I love what you wrote, too.

Ronni, even though it is something I have thought about for a long time, I could not have put this better myself. Yes, the sexual revolution was undeniably a good thing. But your comments above show that it was only a step in the right direction, rahter than the end of the road.

I think it's good when we can all do what works best for us without pressure of expectations. To me, that's true when younger or older.

British jazz singer, writer & surrealist, George Melly (80 this year, I believe) remarked that losing his libido was like being unchained from a wild beast. But one must bear in mind too Picasso's capacity for fatherhood well into his four-score. As for myself at 61, any musings must come under the heading of too much information...

Raging hormones: disease of the too young!

I wonder if losing the libido is natural? If there are examples of late life lusting, then it is a choice not an inevitable fact of life. I agree that if someone wishes to 'let it go' or simply not engage it (a possibility at any age), then we should respect it as we would/should any choice someone makes. As for the constant hype, I attribute it more to the objectification of human beings and the fact that it obviously sells than to some sort of demeaning of the old --- the proliferation of which demeans everyone at all ages.

I refuse to lament my youth's passing. I'm happier now than I've ever been in my life in spite of everything that has happened to me in recent years. I think it's simpler without all that angst and baggage. I'm in a relationship for the present, but it's based more on common interest and friendship than any of the other stuff and we are just fine with that. Someone wiser than I said, "Marry someone you love to talk with because, someday that's all you'll have left." And that works for me.

R.I. P.!
Yep..it is gone!

Thank Heavens It is GONEEEEE!

I have to agree! At 60, I am happier than I have ever been. I, too, have ditched 2 husbands in favor of cats.I am GLAD it is gone.

I am 58 and still have an active libido and I do not think for a second that a loss of libido leads one to wisdom, because it doesn't-necessarily . I have a healthy attitude about sex, because my parents never hid it from me like so many parents do-nor did they flaunt it in my face. I learned that it was natural and God given not something to be blasted across a televisiion or movie screen or to be hypocritical or whispered about by people who have all kinds of hangups.

Looking back, it does seem that the "sexual revolution" imposed a lot of pressure on both sexes to act out. Sometimes I am embarrased when my gal students enter my tiny office cubicle, and I'm not sure where it is safe to put my eyes. Must we all dress like Las Vegas showgirls? The other day I saw a young woman walking near a busy intersection dressed in tight, flamboyant clothing and wondered if she was a streetwalker. Then, I felt guilty, because it could have been far from the truth given contemporary standards of dress. As for my own sexuality, I wouldn't mind having a bit but many men are out of shape and too emotionally needy to be appealing. If they are not, they often want a woman younger than I. Have you touched on that form of age discrimination Ronni? I've been a reader only a relatively short time.

The human brain is really made of two brains (well, four, if you count each half) - the old brain, which all animals have, and the new forebrain, which humans use for reason. We like to think we're rational creatures, but just look at which brain is really in the driver's seat when it comes to (most?) human behavior.

So the decline of hormone levels that appears an inevitable part of aging for most has the nice side-effect of leaving the forebrain (or what's left of it) with a much greater say in our behavior. It really is liberating. But I find that there is still a desire for partnership and a need for non-sexual physical contact. Are there new relationships among the non-sexual population, that are sustained without sexual bonding?

So refreshing to read this - thank you!

On the one hand, I've noticed things slowing down. My husband was stricken with prostate cancer and his surgery went very wrong, resulting in a second surgery the next day - followed a year and a half later by radiation, at 51. He's had severe difficulties in that department; I try to accommodate.

But, on the other hand, I've become obsessed with the 40-year-old virility of Pernell Roberts on Bonanza!

What-the-what is up with THAT?

Thank you. At nearly 60, I don't miss raging hormones at all. Think of the extra energy I have for the things I've grown into love with -- including people. :-)

This is a really powerful post about an important topic. We were happy to include it in the 27th Carnival of Feminists that went up on the 15th at "Body Impolitic".

Check it out.

Ah, I've been ranting about this a long time. Read my I Hate Viagra post, for example.

But: Libido's a wonderful thing, and this doc has read nothing to coroborate your thesis that with age it must wane (it IS between the ears, after all) OR that it has anything to do with wisdom.

For me it's been a financial wind-fall-- so many broken hearts on the heels of over-valuing sex, not love. The whole goal of Better Sex Even as opposed to romance, relationship suicide.

I'm so looking forward to that pendulum.

Love the blog.

Hi Ronni,

Funny thing, the night I read your post on Freedom from Sex, I had the most intense sexual experience, in a dream that is. But it was strong and vivid and I remembered it long after I woke up.
So I thought to myself, old girl, your sexual juice is still there, even though deeply buried.
Hey, you never know, right the thought of sex is not appealing to me, but my dream told me I am still a sexual being.

Love from The Hague, showing those 17th century painting clouds today ;-)

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