Lester liked me. I was warm and pretty. I showed interest in his opinions and listened to his stories. We would speak on the phone for a long time and when I sat near his bed, he would grab my hand and include a sexual innuendo in our conversation. At 83-years-old, he had forgotten much of life, but he was never far from remembering the fun of erotic excitement. Typically, older men welcome all wisps of sensual pleasure and luxuriate in remote memories of erotic fulfillment. They feel respect and gratitude for a woman’s presence that one rarely finds in the young.
Alice is a spunky 72. She wears her, silver hair pulled up in a French twist. Her last boyfriend, Paul, was 34. “He was so immature” she muttered. “But oh so cute and fun to look at.” Alice beamed with pleasure when she complained about Paul that way. It was a brief affair but the flame that has been ignited in her body had brightened her spirit ever since.
There is a sophistication that comes after decades of wrestling with the erotic aspect of life. When a person knows their body’s hungers and limitations, peacefulness can prevail over tension. The elderly are not plagued by their sexual inclinations. Erotic thoughts neither torment nor frighten.
Society belittles the elderly and their “lecherous” sex. We deem it unnecessary. But if we could calmly appreciate the subtleties of sensuality and touch, as do the elderly, wouldn’t we be happier? If we reveled in the sexual energy dripping off beautiful, young people, would that not be a lovely addition to each day?
Yesterday I helped insert a catheter into Lester’s urethra, the tube through which urine leaves his body. He had lost the ability to control his bladder and the catheter would insure that his urine went from the opening at the end of his penis, through a tube and into a plastic bag, rather than all over the bed. As I looked at his genitals I noticed how childlike they were. There was no hint of mature masculinity left, no aura of potential. According to the great sages of Oriental medicine, when vitality leaves a man’s penis, his health is in jeopardy. The sexual spark holds the essence of life. Without sexual potential, life in its entirety becomes precarious. This was the first time I had been around Lester and not felt his spark. It had always come out somehow, in his light, caustic, banter or the sudden, slight hint of color in his usually empty cheeks.
I have the privilege of lecturing at an up-coming cancer conference for medical doctors. I will spend a day reminding them how important it is to support their patients’ sexual identities during treatment. We forget the infirm also keep their genitals with them. Personal identity hinges on our gender and an individual’s sense of dignity cannot easily survive the callousness of being treated as sexless.
I told John and Clara how important it was to hold tight to their erotic past. He was 46 and dying of cancer. They had been married 25 years. “ I don’t care how low your weight gets” I told him, “climb on top of her and feel the wonderful familiarity. You don’t need to have an erection or any sense of sexual excitement.” In truth I did not expect him to feel any urges as his body was riddled with both tumors and toxic chemicals. It is not important to perform the act. It is only necessary to feel its sacredness. It is the truth within our sexual love that deserves recognition. The act itself will come and go. Some decades we are up for it. Some we aren’t.
Jim rolled over slowly and painfully, with Clara’s help, on top of her in bed. He lay his head on her chest and felt the loveliness of her breasts. Her breasts had nursed both of their babies, had given them years of pleasure, and felt like home. His pelvis found the familiar angles of her hips and she received what was left of his weight with joy. Even during the darkest days of their lives, they rediscovered joy simply by “assuming the position”. After Jim died, Clara told me he had felt happiest when they lay together than at any other time during his illness. No matter the fury of the disease, his masculinity was, temporarily, more powerful. No matter the time remaining, this was their moment. Their bodies were old friends and sexuality had been the means through which this friendship had been cultivated and maintained.
Our journey on earth is a somatic experience. The difference between being alive and being dead is having a body and living through the experience of it. Do not run from the urges that bring light to the eyes of even the weakest. Instead, recognize the majesty in this hunger and all its manifestations. Become a student of this holiness.
Your sexuality is precious whether you know, fear, love, express or hide it. You can use it to love another person, and to respect your self, understanding more about your rightful place in life.
Many of you have written to me. You are hurting, you are non-orgasmic, you are unable to control ejaculation, can’t please your partner, or are wounded from old traumas, Some are grateful to have found a new beloved while others are suffocating with a stagnant one. You are everything, a wonderful collage of life’s yearnings. But no matter your challenge, you all want to increase your sexual self-respect and mastery.
My first recommendation is: Remember that sexual love is the expression of life’s desire to continue. Sex brought you into this world and will provide its greatest joys, if you let it. Respect it in others, in the sick, the dying, the old, the ugly. Its majesty is reflected not only in the dramatic, vigorous acts of the young but also in the subtle caress that comes with maturity. Stroke the hand of a sick or elderly person. Watch the sparkle come back into their eyes.
This article is dedicated to Lester, who left us today.