Retirement From Sex

A better title for this essay would be Retirement From Life, but the word sex attracts more readers – don’t worry, I’ll get down to the juicy parts soon enough, just consider this intro foreplay.  I’m spending a lot of time thinking about retirement from work, but I realize the word retirement can encompass far more than just that one part of life.  Retiring from work is a major transformation in one’s personality, but as we get older we go through so many transformations that can also be called retirement.

For instance, I’ve long ago retired from going out to bars to hear live bands.  That used to be part of my personality, listening to live music, but I’ve gotten old and can’t handle noise.  Even loud restaurants feel like psychological torture.  My wife hasn’t retired from live music, so she still feels youthful in that regard and I feel old.  I know lots of guys who have retired from going to the movies.  I haven’t yet, but only because it’s a major way to socialize with my lady friends.

Another area that I will be retiring from is heavy lifting.  Guys like lifting heavy stuff because it proves they are still young and strong.  A woman mentions she needs a 25″ TV carried up three flights of stairs and you volunteer, to make a point about your maleness.  Women don’t need men for much, but lifting is something they seem to appreciate.  So to retire from heavy lifting means checking out of the strong male club and it means you are admitting you’re weak, like a woman.  And this is a big change.  It’s humiliating to have to say, “Sorry, I can’t pick up something that heavy.” 

Men retire from the heavy lifting club slowly.  As you get older and something needs to be picked up and younger guys are around, you start letting them show off.  But if you’re the only guy you keep trying to prove yourself as long as possible.  George Carlin recently joked about this in his new comedy routine about turning seventy.  He tells his audience, once you turn seventy you never have to lift anything again.  Oh, you might pretend to try, but a younger person will rush over and do the job for you.  I’m only 56, so I still have to lift things, but there are times when my wife talks about helping friends move, and I’ll remind her of my back problems.  Of course, if a lovely young woman at work is in need of heavy lifting help, I don’t worry about my back so much.

Retirement from work means a huge change.  Work means you are useful to other people.  It’s more than just earning a living, work is social and it defines an essential part of our personality.  The first thing people want to know when meeting you is what you do.  Saying you’re retired is like saying you’ve stop being somebody.  Of course, you solve this problem by becoming somebody new, but that’s hard to explain, especially if your hobbies are rather piddling.

Now, back to sex.  Sex is a big topic, but few people express the personal details of their sex life, and neither will I.  Let’s just say I’ve reach an age where I can see an end to my sex life.  I feel sort of cheated by that because I remember back in the 1960s seeing documentaries about how people in their nineties could have active sex lives.  I think there are some people who are still balling when their age hits three digits but they are few and far between.

Sex is not something I want to retire from, but I’m starting to see the dirty writing on the bathroom wall.  I am appreciative for all the sex my wife gives me, and I do know on her part she’s doing a lot more giving than receiving, because she’s been closer to retiring from sex since menopause.  (At least with me, I don’t know about her and her boyfriends.)  She feels guilty about retiring from sex, which is lucky for me, but it’s not an emotion I want to play on for long.  I’ve joked with her that if she doesn’t want to change the cat box then maybe I can find someone else for the job.  She told me to go for it, but I think she’s confident that few women want the chore of being kindly to an overweight old bald guy.  I guess she knows, it would still be changing the cat box to them too. 

I don’t think I’m the only guy in this situation.  I’ve gotten hints and jokes telling me the well is running dry in other marriages.  Some of my friends even allude to losing interest themselves, and a couple joke like Al Bundy when he complains about having to service Peg.  Although,  I have heard rare reports of lucky older guys who have wives with matching libidos, but those guys might be lying, just like how some guys lied about the frequency of their sexual successes when they were younger.  But statistically, I know the world is filled by all kinds, and anything is possible.  Of my male friends who dine alone, they just make jokes about how happy they are they don’t have to move furniture all the time.

What surprises me about retiring from sex is how men are so much different from women.  I know a lot of divorced and widowed women my age, and older, and the common consensus is they are overjoyed to be out of the sex provider business.  I find this a little hurtful because it makes me wonder if they ever really liked making us guys happy.  I always ask my single lady friends if they wouldn’t like to get married again, and they universally groan. 

There is one common joke I hear, “Oh, I wouldn’t mind marrying a rich guy with a bad cough.”  This strikes me as severely mercenary, and makes me further wonder about the motives of the women I knew when I was younger.  I know books, movies and television shows are all about romance and sex, but I’m starting to wonder if pop culture hasn’t been perpetuating a long standing urban myth.  I just assumed women were different before and after menopause, but now I wonder.

Retirement from sex means learning who you really are.  When I was at Clarion West Writers Workshop I wrote a science fiction story about a guy who volunteered for an experimental treatment to temporarily turn off his sex drive to see what life would be like without his little slave driver.  The story got a violent reaction in the critique group.  The night before my older classmates, both men and women, told me how much they liked the story, so I went into the critique the next morning thinking I’d have a hit, but I was blasted by the young people.  Some of the younger women called the story misogynistic, which was scary.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that.  On one hand, it could have been true, on the other hand, why was the story admired by some and hated by others, and the dividing line seemed to be age?  If a man turns off his sex drive does that mean he devalues women, or even hates them?  Since the younger women were writing romantic stories, I could see my anti-sex story as anti-romance.  What’s funny is women become anti-romantic after menopause.  Well, that’s not quite true, they become anti-sex romantic.

Jane Austen is the queen philosopher of post-menopausal women. All my older women friends want a Mr. Darcy for dinner and dancing, handsome, rich, dashing – and a man who never expects the heroine to leave her Empire silhouette gown.  Retiring from sex for men, means fulfilling a new role for women, one more fitting for a Jane Austen tale.

Don’t get me wrong, young women also love Jane Austen, but they either want or expect to unsnap their jeans for Mr. Darcy.  Retirement from sex means changes in personality for both men and women.  I think many woman are happy to go off to their little houses to live alone after their children grow up and their husbands leave them through death or indiscretion.  And I think with older married couples, the concept of romance changes with them too, with women preferring their husbands to retire peacefully to their workshops or computer rooms.

In the life-long battle of the sexes I’m never sure if either sex understands the other.  Women smugly claim to understand us males, thinking we live by one single motivating force, and claiming we don’t have a clue about their fairer sex.  I think men have multiple drives, with sex just being the obvious one.  It’s like asking little kids about going to the bathroom, inquiring if they need to go do #1 or #2.  Well, there’s a lot of males hopping on one foot needing to go to #3, and that’s all women see.  Sometimes it’s, “Oh, how cute,” and other times, it’s “Can’t you wait.”

I know when I go out with my women friends and the dinner check comes, they whip out their purses insisting to pay their half.  I’m amused by this because I wonder if they are thinking, “I don’t want him believing I’m going to put out for $18.35 plus tip.”  Like I said before, many of my lady friends have joked they would marry an old rich man with a cough.  I’ve got to wonder if there is an incentive that would bring them out of retirement that falls between the price of dinner and a large inheritance.

Retirement from work means withdrawing from the complex social life of the office.  Retirement from sex means withdrawing from a life of close physical contact.  I don’t think men and women experience this retirement in the same way.  I think the constant intense biological pull that women feel to be mothers and wives disappears after menopause, so they actually feel free and relieved to be independent.  Whereas men who have always been free and independent feel psychologically cut off from people when they retire from sex.  Men often die after retiring from work, and they often die when they have to live alone, and sometimes I wonder if they die when the final realization comes that the little guy is not going to have any more fun.  Old women seem to thrive on independence and their retirement from sex.

What’s weird about thinking about having to retire from sex is how it changes my personal opinion about myself, and what it reveals about my personality.  Gays and lesbians teach me a lot about sexual identity, in a rather round-about way.  We define ourselves by who we want to get naked with, but what happens when we never take off our clothes with other people?  Do we lose that identity?  Do we suppress or bury it, or does it just slip away like time.  Already I feel my sexual life has regressed to what it was like when I was a teenager, when I considered getting to first base a major goal.  I’m back to wondering why women are so stingy with their riches.

Does retirement from sex mean a total regression, a devolution back to virginity?  The phrase “old men and their toys” takes on a whole new meaning.  Or will retirement from sex be the undiscovered country of my future?  Or should my work retirement goal be to become an old man with money and a bad cough looking for a younger women willing to trade a few years of cat box changing duties for a long term retirement plan of her own?  Or should I admit that I am not Mr. Darcy in anyone’s eyes and I should just develop a new identity, but one without sex?

Time Goes By, is my guide to getting old, and even Ronni, my elder guru, discusses the waning life of sex in, Been There, Done That. What’s Next?, although she is quick to defend that elders are having sex in, CNN: Elder Sex is a Dirty Joke, which reports 73 percent of people 57 to 64 are still having regular sex, and 53 percent of people age 64 to 75, and 26 percent for people 75 to 85, are still getting it on too.  So retirement from sex, is like retirement from work, not everyone retires at the same age.

My point of this long-winded essay, is retirement is all about change, and fundamental changes, changes deep in our personality.  This makes me not want to retire in any way, and keep on going the way I have been.  On the other hand, I’m ready to rush into this new undiscovered country and start exploring.  Escaping death is not an option, but I’d like to think everything else is, but that may not be true either.  A lot of men would prefer to die at their desk, and I can understand that.  And a lot of guys joke about coming and dying at the same time, and I can understand that too.  The harder thing to imagine, even scary to think about, is living twenty or thirty years without work or sex or the ability to lift heavy objects.

Jim