After 6 Decades of Marriage, No More Sex but Plenty of Intimacy

“I see friends’ spouses die,” a husband writes, “and it scares me. Losing my wife is my biggest fear.”

By CONOR FRIEDERSDORF

My article “Is My Marriage That Different from My Grandparents Marriage?” solicited email from older, married readers willing to describe the institution as they see it. What follows is one of several responses I’d like to share. Another is here. I’d love to read more responses, especially from women, who’ve yet to send any. They can be emailed to the address at the bottom of the item.

The reader writes:

My wife and I were born the same year during the Great Depression. We married at 19. We are still married and very much loving partners. Even though intercourse has gradually gone away, intimacy hasn’t.

coupleWould we have married later had attitudes toward sex been different? Perhaps. I am sure that mattered. I remember being refused condoms when I tried to buy them at the small town drug store where my college was located.

We have five children.

Like many in her generation, my wife stayed home with the kids till the last one was in school. She then completed her BA and MA degrees and had a very successful career. As an academic who came on the market during a time of educator shortage, I had the opportunity to move easily. I changed high school jobs three times before moving to complete my Ph.D. After that, we moved five times for professional reasons. The last, from abroad back to the U.S., was to follow a professional opportunity for my wife. We had moved abroad partly because she was unhappy at her job. In her late fifties, a foreign adventure also seemed attractive, and the salary was high.

We have an old fashioned division of labor. She does most of the cooking and house work. I manage the family finances and budgets. We do have a twice weekly cleaning person who does the heavy stuff. We also eat out four or five times a week. We travel three months each year, and I do all the planning and arranging for that.

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How is our generation’s notion of marriage different? First, we expected to stay married. We would have never thought about it not working out. Second, we didn’t think about individual payoffs, but about being part of a unit, a family. We planned together and talked over any decision about what we did and where we went. I remember teaching a public speaking class and hearing, for the first time, a young woman speak about Betty Friedan and the need for woman to find fulfillment. I went home and asked my wife and her friend, also a young mother, if they were fulfilled. They laughed and said they were too busy to think about it. I don’t think a young woman now would say that.

I wasn’t thinking about fulfillment either. I had a career to build and a family to support. I never asked whether I was getting more personally out of our marriage than I was putting in. That too is a more contemporary thought. We were a unit, a family. Our fulfillment was joint. That continued after the kids were gone.

Prior to the pill, kids came when they did. Planning children wasn’t the way it is now. The diaphragm wasn’t a very good method of birth control. Our kids came within a dozen years. I often wonder how my wife managed to do what she did during those days. I always came home, but I was also focused on getting ahead professionally. We ate dinner as a family and did lots of things as a family. We played games. We sang as we drove places. A lot of the “Father Knows Best” things.

As an aside: as part of my academic work, I read of a focus group of inner city kids in Miami. They expected to die very young. They also used Saran Wrap as protection during intercourse. The researcher showed them old “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It To Beaver” shows. They liked what they saw because they said it would be so safe.

I can’t imagine how awful it would be, as I experience the inevitable physical changes of aging, to be doing it alone. In a short play I recently wrote, one old man says to another, “Morning stiffness doesn’t mean what it used to.” The other replies “Neither does get up and go.” We share so much history. We do little things for one another. I rub her feet; she trims my toe nails. We also share so many little jokes. It is impossible to tell anyone how often, just eating breakfast or driving to the store, we find ourselves laughing at something together. I see friends’ spouses die, and it scares me. Losing my wife is my biggest fear. I’m not sure how I would go on with out her. I don’t understand what it would be like to live alone without someone to talk to and chuckle with.

Warm good wishes,

[name withheld on request]

p.s. If I didn’t say in the original that I love her deeply, you might add that. Young folks need to know that love can continue and grow. I’ve written a couple of plays where the lovers are no longer kids. It’s amusing when young people, despite the evidence of their own existence, don’t think their parents know about love and sex.

Complete Article HERE!

Beyond “The Sessions”: Intimacy at end of life

I did a little follow-up interview with the wonderful people at Life Matters Media.

November 16, 2012
Beyond “The Sessions”: Intimacy at end of life
Dr. Richard Wagner

Dr. Richard Wagner, a Seattle based clinical sexologist, spoke with Life Matters Media this week about the many positive effects physical intimacy may have on the terminally ill. As the critically acclaimed film The Sessions has brought this topic to the forefront, it has left in its wake many issues in which to delve deeper. Wagner, a former Roman Catholic priest, is the author of “The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying: Enhancing the End of Life.” He has practiced sex therapy and relationship counseling for more than three decades.

You have a degree in theology from the Jesuit School at Berkeley, and you’re a former priest. How did you get involved with end of life and intimacy?

I was a Catholic priest for 20 years. While that wasn’t a particularly happy association, I’m the only Catholic priest in the world with a doctorate in clinical sexology. I wrote my doctoral thesis on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of gay priests in the active ministry in 1981. That was long before the Church was willing to acknowledge there was even such a thing as a gay priest. The fallout from this research blew my ministry out of the water.

In 1981, the same year I finished my doctorate, a remarkable thing was happening to gay men in San Francisco and elsewhere. They were dying of some mysterious disease. Some speculated that this was God’s retribution for the gay lifestyle. How quickly we leap to that conclusion when we are ashamed and frightened. Most of my friends died in the first wave, between 1981-85. None of us knew what to do. My friends looked to me for guidance, since I had a background in psychotherapy and religion. But, to tell you the truth, I was just as lost as anyone.

I found myself sitting with all these men as they were dying. It was ghastly. But sitting with death was precisely what I needed to do. It helped me to desensitize death and prepared me for what was to come. I realized early on that dying in America is often a very lonely and very passive affair.

I wrote “The Amateur’s Guide” because of the work I was doing with sick, elder and dying people – not just AIDS patients. I saw this pattern develop; the end of life is more difficult than it needed to be. In response I founded Paradigm, a nonprofit organization with an outreach to enhance life near death for sick, elder, and dying people. It provided an opportunity for participants to discuss end of life concerns and get the support they needed to fully live the end of their life. The program was so successful; I decided to put the program in book form.

Let’s talk about intimacy and end of life care.

Just because someone is dying doesn’t mean that they have stopped being human. One of the things that humans need in their life is intimacy. And sometimes that intimacy involves genital sexuality. But this concern is hardly ever talked about in terms of the end of life, nor is it included in disease-based discussions. I mean, when is the last time you heard someone talk about the sexual concerns of people with cancer or heart disease? Our culture is uncomfortable with the concept of sick, elder, and dying people having such desires. But if you listen to these folks they’ll tell you what they need and ho difficult it is to live without.

Could sexual intimacy be considered a form of palliative care?

I would think, yes. If you’ve had an active intimate/sex life up until the point you were diagnosed and then all that suddenly disappears, there will be problems. I’m not just talking about genital sexuality; I’m talking about all intimacy needs we humans have — being present to, touching, as well as pleasure. It’s all about what is possible, on a personal level, with one’s intimate partner(s). So many people, even people who love sick, elder, and dying people don’t know how to touch them. And sick, elder, and dying people often report that the only touch they receive is very clinical touch. And that’s not all the life affirming, if you ask me.

Complete Article HERE!

The Sessions

I have some marvelous news!

My good friend and colleague, Dr Cheryl Cohen Greene, is a sex therapist and surrogate partner therapist. On October 26, 2012, Fox Searchlight Pictures will release a movie, The Sessions. It’s the poignant story of her work with one of her famous clients, journalist and poet Mark O’Brien. The movie is finally being released to the general public after a round of critically acclaimed premieres at film festivals all over the world.

Helen Hunt plays Cheryl in the movie. The cast also includes John Hawkes and William H. Macy.

Click HERE to listen to Part 1 of my interview with Cheryl for my SEX WISDOM show.

Cheryl and I have another connection too. If you’ve spent any time with my new book, The Amateur’s Guide To Death and Dying; Enhancing the End of Life, you will probably remember Cheryl from Chapter 6. She did the presentation on sex and intimacy concerns.

I am so proud of Cheryl, the work she does, and the recognition she is finally receiving for her groundbreaking work with sick, disabled, elder, and dying people.

The Kay Jaybee Connection

Interest in The Amateur’s Guide To Death and Dying is coming in from all corners. Even from what would appear, at first glance, as unlikely sources of interest. Take for example my good friend, Kay Jaybee. She is an award-winning author of sizzlin’ erotica who lives in the UK. She and I have know each other since September 2008 when, together, we inagurated The Erotic Mind podcast series over at Dr Dick’s Sex Advice.

Kay and I don’t often get a chance to connect, our schedules and the eight-hour time difference between us often prohibits that. But when we do chat it’s like old home week. Some weeks ago we visited with one another on Skype. I was telling her about the difficulties I was facing trying to get the word out about The Amateur’s Guide. Being an author herself she understood.

Kay asked me if I would be interested in writing a guest post for her site. I jumped for the opportunity.

Of special interest to Kay’s audience, and also my favorite, is Chapter 6 of my book, titled, Don’t Stop.  I collaborated with my dear friend, the internationally known sex educator and therapist, Dr. Cheryl Cohen Greene on this chapter about sexuality and intimacy.

We begin by posing 5 simple questions to help our readers focus their attention on their sexuality and intimacy needs.

1. How important is sexuality in your life?

2. Is there’s a difference between sexuality and intimacy?

3. Do you have a range of options in which to experience your sexuality?  If yes, what are some of them?

4. How well are you able to communicate your needs for sex and/or intimacy to your partner(s)?  Are there any specific issues that get in the way of asking for what you need?

5. What are your biggest concerns about your sexuality as it relates to your disease, aging and/or dying process?

Cheryl sums up the reason for incorporating this chapter in the book.

“Sexuality and intimacy are important topics for us to consider, because there is so little information out there about these things for elders and those of us who have life-threatening conditions.  The assumption, I suppose, is that sick, aging and dying people don’t have sexual and intimacy concerns, so why even bring it up?

That ridiculous assumption is so prevalent, even among healing and helping professions, that I’m forever having to confront it with, ‘Hey, we’re not dead yet.’”

Kay published my guest posting this morning.

I invite you to take a look at the full post.  I think you will agree things have got to change.

Click on Kay’s banner below to see the posting.

Starting Over

I have this great opportunity to cross post, here, a posting I made this morning on my sex advice site, Dr Dick’s Sex Advice.

Name: LD
Gender: Male
Age: 38
Location: Atlanta
How do you jump back into the game when your partner passed away suddenly? Getting really horny but its still awkward to actually do it.

Good question, LD. You say you’re feeling awkward. Why exactly? Is it because you’re out of practice with the whole dating thing? Are you concerned that people might think you’re jumping the gun, trying to get back into the game before your partner is cold in the grave? People can be pretty heartless about this. Or, is your awkwardness associated with your grief?

Grief has a profound effect on every aspect of our lives. Yet there is hardly any literature on the effects grief has on our sexuality. To my mind, grief is the leading causes of sexual dysfunction for those who have experienced the death of a partner.

Allow me a bit of time here for one of my pet spiels. Healing and helping professionals often misdiagnose grief. I want to make one thing clear, grief is not depression. Treating grief with an antidepressant is counterproductive. It can actually take away the impetus to resolve the grief and get on the rest of one’s life.

Making sure that you have processed your grief may eliminate some of your awkwardness you are currently experiencing. This is something I’m pretty familiar with. A good portion of my private practice is with sick, elder and dying people and their friends and family who survive them. I know the impact a terminal illness and dying process can have on the surviving spouse or partner. We often go into survival mode, shutting down so much of ourselves in an effort to have the strength to cope with this life-altering experience. Of course, trying to kick-start our life afterwards is often a monumental effort. Without the support and guidance of a professional or a group of similarly challenged people, some of us just sink to the lowest common denominator.

I believe in the resilience of the human spirit. I believe that we can honor our dead and continue to live and love. It sounds to me like you have a desire to get on with your life, LD, to fill the void, to make new connections, but you simply don’t know how. Acknowledging that fact is a real good place to begin.

Perhaps you could start by reawakening your sexuality through self-pleasuring. Reconnect with your body and the joy it can bring you. Reestablishing a social life will no doubt follow, slowly at first. But the inevitable tug of the need for human-to-human contact will draw you, if you let it. Remember the best testament to those who have died is to continue to celebrate life itself.

Allow me to draw your attention to my latest book, The Amateur’s Guide To Death And Dying; Enhancing The End Of Life. Actually it’s more of a workbook then a text and while its primarily target are those currently facing their mortality it’s not exclusively for them. Concerned family and friends, healing and helping professionals, lawyers, clergy, teachers, students, and those grieving a death will all benefit from participating in the interactive environment the book provides.

Of special interest to you will be Chapter 6, Don’t Stop. My good friend and colleague, Dr Cheryl Cohen Greene, joins me in presenting this chapter on sex and intimacy concerns. Like I said above, there is a dearth of information about this timely topic for sick, elder and dying people as well as those who are grieving. So I am delighted that my book helps break this deafening silence.

I hope you take the time to write back, LD. I’d very much like to keep tabs on how you are doing.

Good luck

Care homes ‘deny elderly people sex’

Care homes often deny elderly people the basic right, and one of their few remaining pleasures, to continue having sex, according to a new study.

Many older people, including those with early stage dementia, enjoy sex while they live at home, but this changes once they move into residential care, said the Australian authors of a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

They blame a lack of privacy, age discrimination and fears about the legal implications should a patient be found mentally incompetent to give consent.

“The formation of relationships, physical intimacy and the expression of sexuality are a basic human right and a normal and healthy part of ageing,” wrote the authors from the Australian Centre for Evidence-Based Aged Care.

Yet most facilities do not have formal policy guidelines or staff training aimed at allowing residents to continue being sexually active.

“Privacy remains a problem, with residents often not able to lock their doors and most rooms equipped only with single beds,” said the paper.

“For residents with dementia, sexuality is viewed with even greater anxiety, either being labelled ‘inappropriate’ or a ‘challenging’ behaviour or as a risk to the resident.”

The team acknowledged the difficulties in determining the legal threshold for informed consent in elderly patients with dementia, but argued this should not be an excuse for denying them their rights.

“It is important to remember that dementia is defined in stages, with early or mild dementia manifesting as mild forgetfulness or confusion that is often mistaken for a normal part of ageing,” they wrote.

“Clearly there is a significant difference between the capabilities of a person with mild dementia and one with advanced or final-stage dementia and, therefore, a single approach to sexuality and ‘people with dementia’ is inappropriate.”

Complete Article HERE!