3/11/15 update: This Sunday, March 15, I’ll have the pleasure of being on a panel with Ann Anderson Evans called “Never Too Late to Date” at the Tucson Festival of Books. I’m moving this post, originally published 11/13/14, to the top so that you all know about Ann’s book and our discussion of safer sex:
When a sixty-year-old, twice-divorced woman starts to date again, she’s not pinning her hopes on an invitation to the prom. She is financially stable and professionally creditialed. She is a matriarch, a pillar of her church, a member of a choir. She has children and neighbors who might disapprove. She has a lot at stake.
Evans is smart, sassy, articulate, and a darned good writer, pulling you right into her adventures. You’ll laugh, empathize, and sometimes worry as she jumps into bed with her Mr. Right-for-the-Moment parade. She wears her heart on her sleeve—or she wears nothing at all—and we share her adventures, her thoughts, her desires, and her evolution from repressed and unhappy to evolved, sexy, and joyful.
Evans finds many men who are interested in having no-strings sex with her, but towards the end of the book, she wonders whether true love even exists — and if so, where is it hiding? I’m not ruining the book by telling you that she meets Terry — a fellow professor and a bachelor at 63. They fall in love and marry. But that’s not until the last chapter!
I enjoyed this well-written book, and I recommend it to you, whether you’re exploring sexual possibilities yourself or you just want to share her escapades vicariously.
However! As a safer-sex advocate, I was concerned because there was no mention of safer sex or any discussions of condom use with the men Evans bedded. I questioned her — no, they never used protection. Then I challenged her to explain her decision(s). She wrote this to me:
Joan chided me for not mentioning safe sex in Daring to Date Again. Logic suggests that simply interrogating a man regarding his sexual health is not sufficient protection, but that is what I relied upon. Why was I more concerned about cleaning the chopping block after cutting up chicken than about having unprotected sex? Why would I maintain the prophylactic habits of regular dental visits and colonoscopies, and yet have unprotected sex? Good question, Joan.
Indulgence was part of it. Pregnancy had been such a persistent worry when I was a young woman that having sex spontaneously was a joy. It was like winning the lottery.
Growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was taught either nothing or nonsense about sex. The bogus teachings were embedded in religion. “Chastity is the cement of civilization,” I read in the Christian Science scriptural companion, the Science & Health, when I was a student in a Christian Science college. I closed that book and have never reopened it.
The nonsense of the times I grew up in was also embedded in school. My only sex education was a couple of gender-divided classes in 7th grade that explained menstruation twinned with the unforgettable fact that when we brushed our teeth we should also be careful to brush our tongues. I was stunned when I got pregnant at 18. I thought I had to want to become pregnant in order to be so.
Between the church and school, I felt manipulated, demeaned, and endangered. Many of those who matured in the 60s rose up in mighty defiance of the bullying traditions of ignorance. In answering Joan’s challenge, I am surprised at my resurgence of anger when I think back.
Perhaps unconsciously, I placed barrier protection during sex in the basket which also included the bogus virtues of chastity, heterosexuality, sitting primly with your legs crossed, wearing a girdle, avoiding nudity, and virginity upon marriage. These virtues are so often ignored that they can only be seen as vacuous wishes. My failure to protect myself was a visceral, instinctive, and senseless act of defiance.
I take responsibility for my own actions, but it would have been helpful if the doctors (including gynecologists) had asked me if I was sexually active during that time. One general practitioner did ask me, and when I told him I had had sex with four men within the last two years he sidestepped the issue, saying, “I think you should talk to your gynecologist about that.”
I sympathize with the doctors. Discussions of sex with patients are probably minefields of religion, politics, family tradition, and personal history. But the medical profession has obviously given up the fight. How often do you see an ad for condoms displayed in your doctor’s office alongside the latest drug for depression or high blood pressure?
I felt embattled during my three years of promiscuity. Not one of the men I was involved with ever mentioned using a condom. If any of them had one in their pocket, they didn’t mention it. Joan might be better equipped to say whether men are just as likely as women to insist on condom use. In my experience, this has not been the case.
The problem of unprotected sex is far more pervasive than that of a single American raised before the Enlightenment. Our failure to identify and rectify the sociological, psychological, historical, and political reasons why people do not use condoms or other barriers has guaranteed that AIDS and other STDs continue worldwide. Saying the answer is education is simplistic. Why we don’t use them is baffling. The reason begins in the outside world of church, school, family, and government policy and all of these play themselves out in the bedroom.
Thank you, Ann, for your eloquent explanation. I can’t help hoisting my 4’10” self up onto my soapbox again to remind my readers: Have all the fun you want, but please have it safely!