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

13 Responses

  1. I had radical prostatectomy surgery about seven months ago, so life without sex isn’t a theoretical concept for me. My solace is running. I run every day at lunchtime with long runs on the weekends. It’s not as much fun, but it keeps me in shape and I sleep like a baby. I lift weights three times a week, so I’m still a member of the heavy lifting club and maybe my wife won’t trade me in for a newer model.

  2. Let’s hope your surgery has only taken you on a long vacation from sex and not a permanent retirement. With all that running and heavy lifting, I’d think you’d be in shape for a very long haul. I envy you for being able to run. Running used to feel great.

    I need to start exercising and getting back into shape. I start physical therapy for my back in two weeks, and I was told it would only be effective if I worked hard and was deligent.

    It’s too bad Betsy can’t run with you, if running is solace for lack of sex.

  3. I too find it difficult to understand women who say they don’t like sex and don’t mind doing without. In my head, how can you not crave it and miss it if you don’t have it?

    I think they never learned how good it could be in the first place. I blame three things on that. Firstly, the man they learned with didn’t know or didn’t care about how to please them. They’ve probably never had an experience significantly different from the first either.

    Secondly, maybe they never learned to keep sex separate from the problems of working or raising a family. Perhaps they always thought it came with love and were disappointed when the fairy-tale didn’t come true the first time. Perhaps they could never see it as a game or stress relief. Maybe they were always looking for something more ethereal from an essentially physical act.

    Thirdly, perhaps they never thought or wanted to be proactive in going after what they wanted. Each of these things are learned traits in our so-called ‘sophisticated’ society. People are limited in their caring and sharing by stereotyped ideals.

    Of course I can also understand when a woman says to me “I need more than sex”. I do too, but I can separate the different needs.

    I have had a life of ‘rabbit-sex’ and while the sex was always great and frequent and I knew it would continue well into old age, I couldn’t live with the man. He made no allowance for my mind or any needs I had that didn’t mesh with his idea of what a wife should be. I now live with a man who is kind, thoughtful and generous, and who lives with chronic pain. I prefer this life.

    I think as we get older we can’t have it all at once. (We couldn’t have it all when we were younger either – we just didn’t realise it then.) We have to make decisions about what is the most important thing for us to have supplied by someone else and hold onto that. The rest we have to take responsibility for ourselves.

  4. Elaine, I think you are among the lucky women when it comes to sex. Among my informal polls, I know a lot of women where sex was more problematic, at least as they got older. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I know a lot of women who take anti-depressant drugs, and those interfere with their sex lives. Again, combined with the onset of menopause, it might be easier for these women to just never get in the mood.

    I also know another group of women, and this is a smaller group, that just got fed up or tired with men. Either our bad behavior or demanding ways just made us not worth messing with. I think some women need a man, for many reasons, and some women like men, for fewer reasons, but I’ve met some women who reach an age where they say, “I don’t need no stinkin man in my life.” And often they say it without malice but with good cheer, because they have found a kind of liberation.

  5. [...] jameswharris I told my friend Janis I had written what I considered a funny post called, “Retirement from Sex,” and she quickly replied, “Who’d wanna read that!”  I told my friend [...]

  6. I certainly don’t hasten the day that I no longer care if sex is a part of my life or not and am thankful to have married a woman with a healthy attitude towards and love of sex. But I also realize that time changes things and age changes things and I hope that no matter where the two of us go as we get older that at the very least we will both be on the same page as I can think of nothing more sad than if one of us wants that retirement and the other doesn’t.

    Interestingly enough this same conversation was on some show on NPR the other day. It was with some elderly female author and I cannot for the life of me remember who it was.

  7. Retiring from life. Just because someone is older, or at an age to stop working for pay doesn’t mean they retire from EVERYTHING. The person who does that is going to be BORING, selfish, and uninteresting.

    There is a ten year age difference between myself and my husband, so naturally when it was “good for him” in our younger days, it is the pitts of “we don’t go there for the sake of my ego”, for everyone now. Poor thing, NOT.

    He isn’t interested in recriprocating much of anything. He is going around with a “poor me” (meaning him) attitude, and a smile at how he got the goods (always) to make HIM feel (and look) good, but now has NO interest in “keeping up” (appearences) or anything else for my sake now

    Perhaps these “uninterested in sex” women got tired of HIS problem, being hers. You know the ego thing men do to PRETEND/or stop even trying to be a man if willy don’t work, there is NO need to try, ANYTHING, ANY WAY EVER THE END.

    Unless you count throwing EVERYTHING to the wind and going for an even YOUNGER woman instead of to a shop that sells a little something that could keep finances, family and a marriage intact.

    Yep, it is ALWAYS the woman that is the problem, not the EGO. Ever notice how men change women (new model, never themselves?)
    They just want to crawl in a selfish hole and die, get mean, blaming and on a HUGE pity party. Clearly a mark of immaturity. No wonder women give up, mind you that is not the same as losing interest in all things that make life “fun”. It is hard for a digusted, woman who is expected to participate in a non stop pity party for the man, to retain ANY interest.

    Bull, a MATURE man can keep a healthy interest in all sorts and alternate sources of romantic or sexual intimacy in spite of any “age” limitations.

    When he retired he also retired from all the other things in life. Poor him. In reality it is poor anyone else that has to live with this egotistical attitude of a selfish, self interested and self indulgent man. Is a man his job, no! Does a man stop being a man if he ages? NO! He stops being a man when his “tools” are the only things that make him one. It IS about his sorry attitude of immaturity, however.

    My asking for him to participate in ANY of it, made him angry. Good thing he isn’t a woman, as women are expected to be “interested” in his needs, no matter what. What selfish and immature things men are.

    So if the guy can’t “rise” to the occassion, he just lets all the good things in life die too. What babies, to invest so much “importance” to just one part of their anatomy, how selfish for anyone they are with as a partner.

    Just goes to show how egotistically selfish they are. Besides if you have a mind, some things don’t matter.

    Partners still need someone in the world of the living, to interact with sexually or otherwise.

    Am I bitter, no just bored with male immaturity.

  8. Mitzy, thanks for your excellent comment. I don’t blame either gender for losing interest in sex, but I can see your point about how us males should try harder. Nor was I trying to blame women in my post. I was trying to point out that society sells the idea that everything is about sex, and suggests that we’ll all be going at it until we die. What I find interesting is some people stop playing the game at a certain point in their lives.

    I can see how you have gotten bored with male immaturity, but I also wonder if you are not fully seeing into the male side. You accuse males of being egotistical, and we certainly are, but I would imagine a loss of sex drive would also imply a loss of identity for males. Like you suggest, we should just cowboy up and go forward in life finding new ways to develop new identities.

    I don’t know how old you and your husband are, but I’m 56, and I’m just starting to feel that it might be difficult to maintain a hard-on for life in general as I get older, if its not too impolite to use that metaphor. Ten years ago I was mentally a different person and couldn’t have imagined what my mental life is like now. So I’m sure I have no idea what my mental viewpoint will be in ten, twenty or thirty years. It’s scary to think about.

    You have given me a lot to think about though – mainly both sexes need to communicate better.

    Jim

    • I am 58, but this, push me away in every way, so he could save his “ego” started when I was only abou 43. He was 51. Suddenly he got so very mean and pushed me further and further. Stopped talking even. This, clearly, was to cover his difficulties, made worse by drinking. Just being held was out of the picture, as it only exaggerated his “shortcomings” most of which he made worse by his fear of failure and his drinking. It was pitiful. After years of my being faithfully supportive, and giving all I could towards tolerant understanding and offering alternates, now he was jealous of the “solution”……so he became mean to “avoid” any responsibility to me at all. The abuse got worse and worse. Considering men live to at least 75 to 80, you can imagine how years of “rejection” of any interactiong at all, became unbearable to me. He didn’t seem to mind at all. Like, duh, you gonna expect me to live YOUR lie to us both? He lied his way out of any affection at all.as that might lead to another “failure”. He castrated himself, but blamed me. I went from “understanding” to “for real” to aids, to no thanks, I will not be blamed so YOU/HE could feel better and keep the “ego” intact. Divoricing now……..time is running out. I am hit on all the time, have remained loyal…..as I do NOT, believe in cheating……but, I have been cheated out of HEALTHY male/female interaction of any kid……so sadly finally threw in the towel. Ego to this extreme is utterly selfish, and a disownment of the vows. Sad, but glad to not spend my remaining years playing nursemaid to an overgrown EGO.

  9. Maybe, like going to bars to hear loud music and drink a lot, it’s just a matter of “Been there, done that”…

  10. I find it very sad that when faced with erection “failure” men insure it by never even trying. I have been “sexless” for years because of a man’s pride. I wish I had a dollar for every time I serviced him, when not exactly in the mood,,,,,how sad he sees no need to “man up” and keep our lives intact by reciprocating in kind, any way he can. I will never ever understand the “ego” being the third party in our marriage. Which, is why after 35 years of waiting, for sexual equality (effort) I finally threw in the towel……he was all talk and take……….enough when there are men all over the place just dying to get laid……..what an ego to think “no effort” can keep a woman. That is when they get all controlling with money, as they got nothing else to offer. How sad, as even “cuddling” beats a big zero. Why do men get mean to cover their “fear” to find they are , the weaker sex after all. I could have maybe dealt with the zero, with affection and companionship….the mean, no way. Sex and intimacy or at the least “friends” if not lovers in the old way, can go far to keeping a family and home intact……..hiding from reality and blaming the woman…guarenteed divorice, sooner or later. Here I am 5 years later and all we have in common now, is debt…and disolution… ….All over a man’s ego…….sickening…….maybe this time I will fall for a REAL MAN who values something other than his income and the rapid rise of his manhood…I know such men exist. You do NOT loose it, unless you fail to move it. His “ego” ruined our home, our peace, our security…..all that we worked so many years for, and he sit alone, broke and abandoned and still blames everyone but himself and the pride he loved more than anything or anyone else. Just sickening to think the years and lives, and MONEY wasted, for what. That he retain his “pride”,hope it keeps him warm on cold nights.

  11. Sorry, got the ages wrong. There is nine years difference. I never expected to be “dropped” off at the corner of you die too, so young. I do feel young and participate in many outdoorsy hobbies, and also have some indoor hobbies. I want to nurture my mind and body, and feel no need to welcome the boring life of the aged, there will be plenty of time for that when immobile, why welcome that? No wonder women live longer, they WANT to.

    Balance is something women excell at and we harbor no dilussions that we can ever stop trying in ANY area (even when we are oh so tired, and rightfully so) as we must “keep our man happy” as a “replacement” is just around the corner, and men never let us forget it. Karma came home to roost on that meanness. Maybe older men should coach younger men to invest in more than “conquest” and income for identity, or suffer a late life destruction of everything they worked so hard to “get” when young?

    I did not expect to spend the “prime of my life” watching a man destroy it all, after years of anticipation of a time we could “do more together”. Sadly all he wanted to do was isolate himself from me, the world, and his inability to do anything about his identity loss but blame ME. I always knew his overinvestment in his job would perhaps be problematic, but to have NO interest in any other facet of life was considerably an unexpected, and inexplicable reality. HE insisted on this by sheer will power…..and again blamed ME, though it was his actions and thoughts to make it so.

    He had all the money and all the time, but NO interest in life outside of work at all, literally it was all he could talk about no matter the company we were in, work work and work……it was pathetic really since it had been years since he had worked, but he exposed himself to NO new experiences as he was locked in the past (where he was apparently more happy than with his family, ever.) Couldn’t even take an interest in his grandson, his home, and had NO hobbies cept crossword puzzles, a totally isolated “hobby” he participated in to obsession, and exclusion of all else.

    I guess “the job” covered up these inadequacies for many years. Yes, work is socializing, which is why women that stay home to raise kids, should, by a loving spouse be given opportunities to “socialize”. Funny how what a man needs to be someone is never afforded his wife. Again, the water doesn’t flow both ways. I made a life “without him” by HIS choice, only to later be blamed for “there being no place for him” in mine. There was always a place for him…….but he wanted to be someplace else….abandoned me and the kids…for a more exciting life “out there”……His choice.

    Now that he is aware of his aging and the party is over “work related and after work socializing that I wasn’t able or welcome to participate in due the his claim, that someone has to mind the children” , he expects me to “parent” him? Oh please. I am done with that, and was looking forward to “couple time” now that we are both “free”, and well heeled, but NOW, he wanted a nursemaid, and if HE wasn’t interested in life “out there” neither was I supposed to be. This is not loving, but demanding and controlling.

    So my point…..women are just USED to mind the store and miss out on “socializing” on both ends of their lives, NOT.

    • Mitzy, all I can say is find another guy. I highly recommend you read Sex and the Seasoned Woman by Gail Sheehy, which is about women finding freedom in the second half of life. I have lots of women friends who have given up on men. Our sex drives trap us into living lives that imprison our personalities. Sex is fine when it works, but more often than not, it can ruin our lives. The Sheehy book is about women finding themselves after menopause.

      But it sounds like your problem isn’t sex, but the wrong mate.

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