Book Review: The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50: How to Maintain – or Regain – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life
The Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50 is full of information, suggestions, stories, and wisdom. It is written from a healthy point of view which the author Joan Price states on page 145, “If we could all just enjoy what we enjoy without moralizing about what other people enjoy, what a wonderful world it would be.” Embracing this blunt, well-informed, and tolerant viewpoint makes it possible to learn without feeling embarrassed or guilty. People do a wide variety of things in their bedrooms, and how does it help us to be ignorant about those things? If you have read this book, you are prepared for anything: a change in your partner’s pattern of desire, illness, loss, physical limitation, old age, and more good sex than you had imagined possible. I won’t deny that reading about dozens of sexual kinks and variations is erotic, but the eroticism is balanced with deep intelligence as Price never dwells too long on any particular situation or variation, but moves forward to make her point. If nothing else, you will realize by the end of the book that you’re allowed to empower the most resilient and unrelenting sex organ – your brain. It’s going to turn to sex anyway, whether or not you allow it to, so you might as well enjoy the ride. Price never loses sight of the fact that the most precious gift of all is a reliable loving relationship. In its absence, there are myriad ways to remain a sexual being until your very last day on earth.
Lots of stories didn't make it into Daring to Date Again, and here's one of them. I met Marvin online. He lived on the Upper West Side so, of course, I would go into the city to meet him. Growing up, I had been taught that the man always comes to the woman, that it would be seen as desperate if a woman went to a man. At first it felt odd being the geographical aggressor, but I liked keeping my dating life away from my home, and enjoyed going into the city, so I banished that thought, which is stupid anyway. Besides, everybody knows that people who live in Manhattan will not travel to New Jersey except under the most extreme conditions. If you want to date men who live in New York, you just have to get used to this. We met at the Guggenheim Museum to see an art exhibit which showed a progression of Spanish art; there would be a Goya portrait of an ugly duchess next to a Picasso portrait of an ugly duchess, and so on -- the motifs of Spanish art as interpreted by classic and modern artists. I like viewing art from the ramps of the Guggenheim, and was fascinated by the exhibition. Marvin was pleasant company, but did not intrigue me. He was the sort of native city boy who doesn't have a driver's license. He was a tall, polite, intelligent, sort of blah high school teacher. When we entered the museum Marvin took my coat and checked it along with his. After the exhibit we went to pick them up and he said to the coat check person, "There are two coats. We are together." "Like for 35 years?" The coat check person joked, sharing an inside joke as she turned to get the coats. "No. We just met. This is our first date, " I said. I was embarrassed and uncomfortable being put in a box by a stranger, and not interested in taking advantage of this opportunity to strike a spark with Marvin. Her remark felt coercive. She was temporarily discomfited, but then laughed. Laughter was the only way out of this uncomfortable moment. Funny how we thrive on our assumptions.
Sex is like ballet. It appears before you elegant, graceful, leaping and soaring under special lighting, with fanfares, exciting arrangements of personnel, and touching denouements. The pleasure and thrill are powerful cultural markers which mask the deeper purpose. Follow the dancers backstage and you see that the elegance and excitement is only a small part of the function and process of ballet. The dancers unwrap their gnarled and aching feet, they soak their aging bodies in mineral baths. Every day, they exercise wearing old sweat pants in yellow fluorescent rooms. A spectator might be addicted to the beauty and grace, but the dancers' love of dance is deeper. There is a scene in Masters of Sex in which the misanthropic doctor holds his stillborn baby, which he has just delivered. The many problems he and his wife have been living with for years disappear in his momentary grief. As Khalil Gibran writes, “Your children are not your children; they are the sons and the daughters of life’s yearning for itself.” This scene is life’s yearning for itself gone wrong. A reader has generously reviewed my book on amazon, and he complains that there is not enough sex in it. He wants details. The details, though, are not only in the unique pairings, the flights of the imagination, which is what he wants; but they are also like the dancer’s bleeding feet, the constant effort in the face of fatigue or boredom, the fantasy gone sour. The purpose of sex is much greater than fantasy and fancy choreography. It keeps our human race alive, cements loving relationships, keeps couples together, opens our eyes to new and unexpected experiences, and forces us to know ourselves. That is the art in it.
A television program about two sex researchers? I wasn't drawn to it, but have changed my mind. The story begins mildly titillating, with brazen prostitutes and daring civilians offering themselves to be viewed and analyzed scientifically while having sex. Masters, the dour, repressed genius, is convinced that finding out how sex works in human beings is a worthy subject, and those around him treat him as a voyeur, an obsessive, an odd and twisted soul. Smiles come hard to this man, and his sex life with his wife is everything people have nightmares about. Again and again in this series, we confront the untrue myths that we have built our civilization upon, the first of which is that men are insatiable. Masters merely, and rarely, does his duty by his wife, with little élan. Our cultural myths, more likely fairytales, do not embrace Mrs. Masters, the nice-girl-next-door who is ready for sexual adventure and far more willing than he. In the series we observe for a scientifically verifiable fact that women fake it. Women use sex to get the material goods and prestige they want, for pleasure (especially Johnson), and to procreate. The men are sometimes like puppies when chasing a woman, and at other times like a violent beast. They give of their energies most readily when they don't feel they are being entrapped. I have read that there is a small cadre of humans who do not need sex, the Dalai Lama being one, but the truth is closer to the words of my former father-in-law, who worked in the Venereal Disease section of the Center for Disease Control, "Everybody does it." This series paints the nuances of that almost universal truth in layers. People endanger their own professional and personal wellbeing to have homosexual affairs; they masturbate and peep; they have their needs and these needs are inevitably fulfilled one way or the other. Those who do not figure in our cultural myth are persecuted and disdained, outcast and alone. The outcasts find each other and live the full spectrum of their selves in chiaro and oscuro, sometimes in the light and sometimes in the dark. But the moment I remember most is Dr. Masters, the genius obstetrician/gynecologist and sex researcher, the cool and lonely husband, the unwilling father-to-be, holding in his arms the dead grey baby he has just removed from his wife's womb. That moment says yes, sex is the root of all life. It gathers us in through titillation and playfulness, through makeup and hairdos and Speedo bathing suits, and then, when we've had our fun, it unveils what it really meant -- that sex is life itself. It draws us together, creates our families, prances through our workplaces, influences our votes, and categorizes our friends, lovers, and mates ... among other things Of course sex is not everything, but the series reminds us in a sweeping way that we ignore or avoid it at our peril. It gives enough examples of "deviation" to suggest the nooks and crannies of sexual expression and desire that are not discussed literally in the show. Our patterns are not voluntary, not traceable to any one cause, not controllable, and not uncommon. I linked the show to the many revelations I was privy to during the years when I was living what later has become my book, Searching for the Unicorn: a Picaresque Memoir. The star attorney who had regular trysts with an illegal immigrant Chinese manicurist who waited on him and tended to his every need. The Scottish husband, father, and businessman who spent an hour or so every afternoon on the Internet with cyberlovers. The radiologist who was powerfully attracted to hirsute women, very hirsute. The astrophysicist who abhorred vaginal sex, preferring anal and oral. The college professor who craved group sex. The doctor at one of New York's most famous hospitals who stalked me telephonically, finally apologizing that he had not had sex in such a long time that he felt he was going insane. Imagining the future, I cannot foresee how our cultural myths will change when intercourse is no longer required for procreation. If that ever happens, all the parts of our lives will be different. Everything.