by Sara Chase

“So is the sex good?” my friend Paul asked about the man I’ve been dating, long-distance, for about a year.

His directness startled me. This is one subject I get squirmy talking about, and his question cut right through to what I’d been struggling with myself.

My new guy and I have a fine time going out to dinner, meeting up with friends, taking weekend bike rides along the water, even vacationing in Mexico. But there is no bright sexual glow in it for me. It’s like going to a play staged without lighting. Is this lack of erotic electricity a side effect of reaching 60?

I wish I knew whether it’s a change in hormones that’s to blame for us not making a deeper connection, or if it’s the lack of an emotional connection that’s holding me back. And I’m constantly wondering if it’s my desire that’s fled, or just my desire for him?

My friend Jane says that at age 60, I am lucky even to be having this discussion at all.

“If you’re getting any, be glad,” she said. “If you’re worried you’re not getting enough, be amazed that you have the time and wherewithal and gumption and hormones to worry about it.”

But I remember the physical intimacy in my 30s and 40s, when sex with my sweetheart was a steamy train ride, all plush seats and local stops made at every part of the body. When we were fully locked together, the feeling I had was, “I’m home.” Safe, protected, loved, wanted. I could let go.

A touch across my arm set off a shiver of desire that often made me laugh, as happiness should. Now, at age 60, some of my parts are dry. Like fallen leaves that crunch underfoot. And when this new man and I are locked together, I don’t say, I’m home. Now, I’m counting instead.

What if desire is like an overly rich cream sauce, something that at my age my system can only digest in small amounts? What if I’m only hungry enough these days for a small appetizer?

“Just connect,” said E.M. Forster. He knew what he was talking about.

Friends knew I had met a new man, and when they asked how things were going, I smiled, then hemmed and hawed. Often by email, so no one’s face would turn red, or once while clearing up the dishes, I admitted I wasn’t sure.

I wondered what other women around my age were going through — and whether there were any trusted sign posts I could read in this land of being an older woman with a new man. Their responses made me realize there wasn’t a simple answer, but that many of us were struggling with the same questions.

Cindy, 52, married: “I think with age you kind of lose your energy and your drive, but there are plenty of other ways to be romantic. My husband has always been very good at that. We aren’t less close than we used to be, even if we are less physically active.”

Heidi, 46, married: “I feel much more comfortable and confidant in my sexuality than I did when I was younger. Although I admit there are times I just go into hibernation. My husband can turn it on and off like a switch, but I can’t.”

Margaret, 58, divorced for many years: “I wish someone would give me a pill so I’d want sex again. I can’t imagine even getting undressed in front of a man anymore. It’s not just my body, it’s theirs.”

Joyce, 80, recent widow and architect: “I’d love to meet a man for the company — to travel with or to go to dinner. But sex? Forget it. I’m done with that. And I think a lot of older men would just as soon forget about it too; it’s just their egos talking.”

Perhaps until I had met a new man, I hadn’t thought about the consequences of physical changes. Now I see that I’m at a new age, and it feels different than it was before.

Lucky youth. She gets to go her own way, without thinking too much about it. Age makes me think about things I thought I could take for granted. Shoe widths expand, physical stamina cuts off half way up the hill. And now this. Desire. Femaleness.

I know that I still feel sexy. I don’t mean cleavage in your face sexy (I never had enough for that anyway.) I mean, alive, vivacious, sparkly in a low-heeled way. Present in the room. Unafraid to throw my thoughts onto the table. Wanting to engage. If I have lost interest in testing my wiles on any new man that happens by, I thank heaven one more folly of my youth has fallen by the wayside.

I am still puzzled by this growing, even more confidant sense of womanness that does not rush at desire, but rather winks at it.

I read a lot, too, and something that Isabelle Allende wrote stays with me: “For women the best aphrodisiacs are words. The G-spot is in the ears. He who looks for it below there is wasting his time.”

What I am listening for is a signal that says it’s time to jump. It doesn’t have to be a guarantee, just a light along the way, a common trust.

It is scary to go to that place where you stop questioning and let go, where you peel back each other’s fears and that sea-bottom connection begins. Without the youthful drive of high-spirited hormones to take me there, I need something else to pull me in close, where sexual intimacy picks up the dangling, loose threads and weaves a couple together.

My new guy gets lost when it’s time for words. Or tries to speak without them. Perhaps he’s the one who is afraid to jump. So I busy myself with other things. We putter in the kitchen and drive around seeing old Mexican ruins. I am glad to have found someone to do these things with, and also glad to have my own house to go back to.

Will what is unspoken leave too big a gap? I don’t know. I guess I am about to find out what shape desire takes in this new stage of my life. I hope whatever it is has the snap of life to it. “My romance,” goes the Carly Simon song, “doesn’t need a thing but you.” With fewer hormones, I just sing it in a different key.

Or maybe that old comedy routine has it right. Sometimes, salami and eggs are better than sex.

Sara Chase (a pseudonym) is a writer in New York.

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  • Dr. Pat Allen September 11, 2007 at 11:13 am

    Thanks Sara, it was clearly a piece that required a great deal of introspection. And you’re certainly not alone. In my practice I hear from women all the time asking similar questions.
    It’s important, first of all, to realize that we should never sell ourselves short, and never settle for what doesn’t make us completely happy.
    Assuming one is physically and emotionally healthy, there’s no reason great sex shouldn’t be a part of our lives at any age. You’ve had great sex — you know what it’s like.
    I’d suggest talking with your doctor about the issues in this particular relationship that are different from other relationships that have been fun and fabulous. Again, thanks for writing this.