On Turning 76
I turn 76 on November 10, 2019. I meant to write this on the eve of my birthday, but I’m rushing it by two weeks. Right now my home is under an evacuation alert because of the huge Kincade fire not far away and projected high winds tonight and tomorrow. The power will go out any minute. The bad air is exacerbating my asthma. Somehow it feels important to write this now.
This past year has been astonishing, both personally and professionally. Who could have guessed that age 75 would be filled with all of these?
- A new book, Sex After Grief, that helped bring closure to my own grief and let me help others who are grieving;
- Making a film (!) about sex and aging, a project that I never envisioned doing until the lovely jessica drake told me it was time to do it together;
- Speaking events in the US and abroad and much media attention;
- A stimulating and nurturing relationship that delights me every day.
Do you want to know what matters less than I predicted? Wrinkles. Puckered thighs. Loose skin. I hear people bemoan their aging bodies, say they have to cover up. Some tell me they’re giving up sex because they don’t understand why anyone would desire their old bodies. Yes, wrinkles startle us, showing up in places we didn’t expect — even cleavage in a push-up bra! — but hey, our bodies are the youngest they’ll ever be from now on! We can celebrate our bodies, or hate them, or ignore them. Which choice serves us best? We can’t go back in time, but we can go forward accepting ourselves and glorying in our life experience. The more we accept and celebrate ourselves at our age now, the sexier we will feel.
My view: let’s celebrate the ability of our bodies to move us, to stimulate us, to feel sexual pleasure. And why should we see ourselves as less beautiful or less desirable because we wear our experience on our skin? Isn’t that a badge of living? I’ve been indulging myself with lingerie photo shoots every few years, and I have one scheduled with Perry Gallagher on my 80th birthday. The point is not to show off my body — it’s to accept it and see it with new eyes, and chronicle my aging process.
I’m amazed, actually, at how well my body functions, despite its many health challenges. (You don’t need to know specifics, other than I need 5 medications a day to keep them at bay.) I realized a long time ago that I can’t change what I inherited (family history of early heart disease; a mother who took up smoking during her pregnancy, resulting in my low birth weight and breathing problems since infancy) and what happened to me (auto accident body destruction).
But I can change what I do to keep my health day by day, hour by hour. I’m a fanatic about exercise, tracking my steps and minutes, challenging myself with 1.5 to 2.5 hours a day of fitness activity: teaching line dancing, brisk walking, Pilates. I lead a very busy life, but I always make time for exercise because it gives back more than it takes — my mental acuity and physical energy are charged up by movement, the more the better. I feel lighter in my body when I exercise. I embrace my physicality. That translate to more joy, better sex, and myriad unseen health benefits. Fitness after 50, 60, 70, or 80 – it’s your choice. Start today, don’t put it off any longer.
I wrote the following on Facebook, and I’ll expand on it now:
I often reflect on this: every path taken or not taken, every relationship that starts and/or ends, every life decision — all of these open doors (and windows) to what happens next.
I realize with the perspective of almost 76 years that our paths aren’t linear. They wind around, sometimes end up where we started, but with new knowledge. Or they lead us to a new place entirely. Sometimes the signposts along the way are helpful, other times they’re in a language we don’t know, so we make our best guess.
I think the only mistake we can make is to be afraid of taking a path because we don’t know what’s at the end of it. The truth is, we don’t know where it will take us even if we think we do.
My advice (if you want advice):
- Move as much as possible — your health depends on it.
- Adopt the “if not now, when?” mindset and live your bucket list now.
- If your relationship situation needs changing, change it.
- Put plans in place now that you might need later: financial, healthcare, will, advance directive.
- Take care of things now that you don’t want your loved ones to have to figure out when you’re unable.
- Spend time with friends — we don’t know how long they’ll be with us.
- Tell the people you love that you love them.
- Learn from the past, celebrate the present, be unafraid of the future.
As I wrote this list, I cringed at a few items. I have a list of important and time-consuming tasks I keep putting off because other things seem more urgent and easier to complete. I’ll check in again later once I’ve followed my own advice on those things!
Did anything on my “advice” list resonate with you particularly? If you were giving advice, what would you add to my list? Please comment and include your age.
Congratulations Joan…I am that fire sign aries..always on the move also….still having erotic photo shoots every month and shooting fetish clips…69 yrs old…still driven…need younger energy to keep up with me…thanks.
I’ve just celebrated my 76th birthday. I have been fortunate enough to have a great group of women. We celebrated every step of the way. Becoming a Crone was looked forward to. We encourage inspired and helped each other. We told each other how special and lucky we were.
Continued to learn and share openly.
My story is not finished. Not quite sure what’s next. That’s why it’s worth living. I constantly surprised and delighted with what I’m given or challenged with
Happy birthday Joan please stay safe with those fires around we to have fires around us in Victoria Australia also NSW and QLD the fire fighters have been doing a wonderfull job but with no water and drought conditions makes it hard. Well done on your book I to need to find confidence on my sexuality but your words have given me something to think about thankyou Lynne
Did I find you and your book for a reason?….
Your birthday is the same day as my late husband , who also passed from cancer 21/2 years ago…
I’m 68 , work out, have a private counseling practice and keep very busy … but.. oh.. the heart.. trying to put it back together . I’m so glad I found you . Thank you
Congratulations on adding another year, 76. I’ll be 4 years behind you at 72 in a couple weeks, having more and better sex these days… and connection, and orgasms and kisses, and poetry, and equipment that works long into the night AND is all connected to my heart. Older and single and somehow still believing in love, your writing and speaking continues to inspire and give hope. I’ve read your books, driven hours to attende your workshops…you remain my hero. So glad to hear you have a relationship now so you can practice all that you be been teaching us.
Don’t slow down any time soon!
Oh, Joan. Your advice should be the mantra for all of us. I love reading your words, always feels like I’m sitting down for a heart to heart with you.
Happy Birthday for the 10th! Hope you are spoiled rotten by those who love you.
Boy are you on the right track but I’m sure you dont need me to tell you that. I just started at age 68 to have a life after 2 decades – of putting myself on the shelf — finally on my own from the responsibility of being everything to everyone -kids, caretaker (mom lived to 100), job (boss died – now on my way out too), downsized from the big house with the big yard, etc etc . Got myself a bucket list going and wool-a found a guy and having sex sex and more sex. Buying lingerie, sex toys,, riding on the back of a motorcycle (bucket list)- plain old good, passionate fun. My advice….don’t act dead if you’re still breathing! PS : So happy I found you!
Have a wonderful celebration on the 10th. My grandson’s is the 11th, so we have a bit of a connection. I hope you’ll be ok with all that’s going on in Calif. Such a devastation to a beautiful land. Love all the wisdom you have to offer and enjoyed reading “Sex After Grief.” I try to live in the moment and not dwell on the past. Take care.
We are almost twins, I’ll be 76 on the 6th! Still healthy, happy and sexy! Thanks for all you do.
Love this, JP … such great advice … as I need to do more to accept the physical changes of aging … thanks for the encouragement … nj