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.
I was quoted in today’s New York Times commenting on the trend that is bringing pole dancing (complete with instructors and portable, ceiling-high poles) into the homes of middle aged, middle class women, as well as into fitness studios. Here’s an excerpt from the article by Tina Kelley:
Some say exercise that echoes the acrobatics done by women who take their clothes off for a living is exploitative rather than empowering. But Ms. Shteir and Joan Price, the author of “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty” (Seal Press, 2006), see a clear difference between middle-class, middle-aged women choosing to give parties in their homes and women pushed by poverty into potentially dangerous or demeaning work.
“If we were to limit what we do in the realm of affirming our sexuality because it has been used against us in the past,” said Ms. Price, who tried pole dancing in 2005, “we would then be buying into the idea that we don’t own it.”
The important point in the NYT article is that pole dancing, once solely the domain of strippers, has been reclaimed by women in all walks of life and of all ages. Why not? It’s a sensual activity that lets us see our bodies as sexy and alluring. We wrap around that pole as if it’s a lover. Pole dancing is also full of fun, healthy sexuality, fantasy, and good exercise –just try hanging onto that pole with your arms, your legs wrapped around the pole, your body suspended, and see if it’s a fitness challenge!
Besides pole dancing, women are flocking to fitness clubs for strip aerobics (we even saw this on Oprah), burlesque dance, and many other activities that “nice women” — especially of our age! — supposedly didn’t do.
Physical exercise itself is sexy, and we’re bringing the notion up a notch or two by indulging in a fitness activity that is decidedly and openly sexual.
I had the pleasure of experiencing a pole dancing class taught by Virginia Simpson-Magruder in 2005 as part of my research for an article for Marin County’s Pacific Sun about innovative exercise classes. Here’s what I said about it then:
“Push out your chest more,” Virginia Simpson-Magruder tells me in the Pole Dance class at Stage Dor Studio (10 Liberty Ship Way, Suite #340, Sausalito). Let’s see: butt out, chest out, look over shoulder, hip out, wrap leg around pole, swing–I never realized that pole dancing would require such strength and coordination. This sensual workout is much more than slithering around a pole–it strengthens the upper body (sometimes your arms are holding your whole body weight on the pole) and feels delightfully sensuous. Instructors Virginia Simpson-Magruder and Lane Driscoll got their training from a former exotic dancer. Yes, we used a real pole. (No, we didn’t strip.)
What do you think? Have you tried pole dancing, strip aerobics, or burlesque dance? What was your experience?