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.
At my 91-year-old aunt’s table in the assisted living facility sit four women. Sometimes I join them for lunch. Old age has turned all four women into quiet companions, but my aunt looks forward to their company. When my aunt and I eat at a separate table, she keeps looking over to see how her companions are doing. Genevieve is a mild woman who raised her three children in a home less than five minutes away from where she sits now. She is interested in me and my book. Irene is a former international lawyer who prefers to be called “Doctor.” In the last few years she has suffered two broken legs, two bouts of pneumonia, and the loss of her son, but she has an old-school stoicism and suffers her pain with grace. The last, besides my aunt, is Georgie. She is 102 years old, which means she was born before the First World War, in 1912. When epidemics rage, Georgie is untouched. Sometimes she sits alone at the table while her three table mates fight off the latest bug to rage through the facility. Every day she plays backgammon with laughter but no trace of competitiveness. She is ambulatory and fully with it. The only deficit I have ever noted is her memory, but not in the way you would think. I am curious about the world she grew up in. What music did she dance to? Does she remember the first time she saw a moving picture? An airplane? A television set? What was her wedding like? She might remember Armistice Day in 1918. My late mother, who was born in 1910, remembered it. But Georgie floats like a cork on life. She says, “I don’t remember any of those things. I just get up every morning and say my prayers to thank God that I am here. I take one day at a time. I don’t worry.” That’s as deep as it gets. Maybe Georgie knows the secret of life. If so, I am not going to survive to 102.
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.
Women have only been out of the box for about 50 years, and it is not surprising that a lot remains to be accomplished. Morality, religion, and power structures resist change. The biggest change over these last 50 years has been the ascendancy of the single woman, untethered to a man for her identity. Even married women present themselves as single entities by not taking their husband's name. The sky didn't fall. Until the 18th or 19th century women (except aristocrats) were part of the same business and daily routine as their husbands. They managed farms or blacksmith forges together. There was a separation of labor, but children were around both parents as they worked, and both parents were part of the same community. When men left home to work women sank out of the commercial loop and didn’t know the people and issues which were occupying their husbands’ days; they languished. (My brother just told me about a luncheon he had a few decades ago with some male business colleagues. All the men, except him, gave their wives an allowance and paid all the bills. I well remember hearing stories in my childhood about recently widowed women who had never written a check or paid a bill.) Our enemy is still the Victorian ideal of fragile womanhood. I think that if I had been regarded as the “angel of the household,” I might have become a hysteric too. My only alternative would have been to become an "old maid," or that equally disparaging word, "spinster." When women and men ran farms together, before the Victorian Age, it would have been difficult to consider them "fragile." I grew up in the 1950s when, for middle class white women like myself, marriage was the one and only goal. But “They changed the rules on us midstream,” said one of my high school classmates. Suddenly, we had to declare a career! Our male counterparts did not know how to do laundry, cook, iron, take care of babies, or entertain, so we continued doing those things too. We were working two jobs. Women were forced to change; for men, it was optional. Today's young men change diapers and cook dinner without a second thought. It's one of the logical solutions, but still leaves both working parents stressed and fatigued, which affects relationships and health. It has taken time for society, religion, and morality to catch up with the Pandora’s Box that was Women’s Liberation. The steps backward, like some recent judicial rulings, are frustrating, but the critical mass has been reached. We are never going backward. I wish I could be here 50 years from today, when no generation will remember the Old Days, when we will have transformed our societies to deal more wisely with the energy that was unleashed when we set our women free.