Sex After Sixty
Two provocative books about enjoying intimacy as you age.
Do you have a sex life, a surprisingly delicious sex life, with your husband of 40 years or a man you met last month at Citarella? Are you suddenly in lust with your first woman or a younger man or a vibrating plastic gizmo that lives in your nightstand? Do you want to know how to find one of the above? Or are you sincerely glad all that stuff is over and done with, because your loving heart is requited by friendship and grandkids?
Wherever you are on the erotic and romantic trajectories of your life, you will find confirmation and solid advice in either Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex by Joan Price or How We Love Now: Sex and the New Intimacy in Second Adulthood by Suzanne Braun Levine—or, more likely, in both of them. Though the titles might make you think they’re pretty much interchangeable, they’re different and complementary. Together they’d make a fine Valentine for your ever-evolving self. The authors agree: You must love yourself (and commit to your own pleasure) if you hope to connect with another.
Price and Levine have a lot in common beside this shared belief. They’re smart, connected, bold, thoughtful, and generous in their wish to promote late-life happiness (a subject on which each has authored previous books). Both legitimize their pitches with quotations from experts: physicians, psychologists, sociologists, porn stars, and a dizzying plethora of women, like thee and me, identified only by their first names, telling their intimate stories. Clinical or breathless, sometimes cautionary, but always warmly sisterly, they constitute an ebullient chorus singing, “You Go Girl.”
But each book is ultimately a memoir, telling of two very different lives filtered through separate sensibilities. It’s helpful to keep that in mind.
Price, a fitness pro, was 57 when she met the love of her life, artist Robert Rice, then 64, who encouraged her to share their story in her 2006 book, Better Than I Ever Expected, Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty. That book earned her the sobriquet “wrinkly sex kitten,” which she has exuberantly embraced.
The couple had seven “spicy” years together before he died, and the new book reflects his urging that she go on with her work, no matter what. A strength of Naked at Our Age is that Price’s passion and compassion for an ailing husband translates into a knowing warmth for the entire male sexual experience—mechanics, psyche, what have you. I can’t think of any other book on human sexuality, by man or woman, which equals hers in its tender empathy with other genders and inclinations. The rather jumbled layout of the book, a plus or a minus depending on your mood, underscores the varieties of love and pleasure that Price celebrates.
Levine, who was the first editor of Ms. magazine, invites us to study a marriage now in its fourth decade, but the bedroom door stays closed. For many readers, that cushion of privacy will be a plus, dovetailing with their own comfort zone. There are thoughtful words about the different stages of marriage: early years defined by burgeoning professional lives and the birth of children on through to the second honeymoon (or not) of two people alone together again.
Levine adds subtlety, gravitas, and wit with quotations from the Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, science writer Natalie Angier, and the indispensable Gloria Steinem in a reflective mood. But the book is marred, to my taste, by a doctrinal suspicion of men. Her brief paragraphs about Viagra refer to one woman’s husband as a “newly minted satyr” and seems to ignore all evidence about how Viagra works—not in a vacuum, but in a relationship where desire is already present.
The greater weakness is Levine’s reliance on upper-cased and oft-repeated phrases: the Fertile Void, Second Adulthood, the New Intimacy, “Interdependence,” circle of trust. Price would rather give you the brand names of lubricants, complete with details about which taste better and won’t stain your sheets.
I sometimes skip forwards and introductions, but I always linger over authors’ dedications, which—case in point to follow—always tell so much.
Levine’s book is dedicated to her “dear children.” I can’t help feeling that she occasionally blushed to find herself at work on a book purported to be about sex. So, despite a first chapter centered on romantic relationships, sex is only a part of her exploration of all the kinds of love we may feel as we age. Many women will be reassured by the importance placed on non-libidinous passion, though those who want gritty questions answered may feel slightly cheated.
Price’s book is dedicated to her husband, “with memories of our great love.” She never blushes—she flushes. If Levine has a strong intellectual grip on why we are the way we are in our 60s and 70s, Price carries us back to the heady freedoms of the 1960s and 1970s, where it all began.
How good to have both books as companions going forward.
Nancy Weber’s novella Ad Parnassum, a mosaic-like homage to Paul Klee, has been published by Underground Voices. Her story Little Dan will appear in Between the Shores, edited by Alex Freeman and T.C. Mill for the New Smut Project (March 2015).