This is #3 in a series on sex and aging. If you have already read this preliminary disclosure, you may skip to the new material below the “more” button.
These posts are about why sex gets better when we become capable of leaving some things behind, and why this generally only happens as we age.
Now be advised: I’m going to write about sex and these topics openly, so if you are:
- under age (18),
- prefer not to read about this kind of thing, or
- want to read about it only as long as certain kind of words are (not) used or descriptions remain allusive and euphemistic,
please do not read this or other post(s) on sex or other adult topics!
“Making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice …”
One of my favorite popular culture check points is Fred Meyer. For those on you not familiar with the Pacific Northwest, Fred Meyer is a branch of “one-stop-shopping” stores where you can buy everything from groceries to furniture.
Fred Meyer tends to be conservatively mainstream. The book section features glossy exposés of “liberal” figures and causes, and laudatory valedictions of conservative figures and causes. Anything on sex and relationships appears in books like those by Dr. Laura (that bastion of advice for how to treat your husband like a pet without him knowing it) or Dr. Drew (both stoking and riding the current wave of an “addiction” frenzy that comes, in part, from deeply ambivalent and contradictory sexual subtexts in popular culture. See SGBWA II: O … God).
The magazines up front tend to be a bit more practical and less pretentious. Now, Fred Meyer isn’t the kind of place to carry Maxim, but they do carry Cosmo (even a Fred Meyer has to bow to the pressures of popular demand) along with mags like Woman’s Day, Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, Oprah, Fitness, and, of course, the National Enquirer. That is to say, there is a fairly broad, though discernibly right-leaning, spectrum of publications. I figure that is, culturally, pretty much where a substantial number of Americans hang out most of the time, at least in their public personas.
Anyway, I also figure that if a trend appears in Fred Meyer, it’s not going to be very fringy. And so, when I’m there I sometimes peruse the book titles and flip a few pages, and when there’s a long line in checkout and Susan takes the hike down to the restrooms I’ll pull out a few magazines.
One thing that really strikes me, from the bookshelves at the back to the last magazine you can grab before swiping your Rewards Card, is how obsessed with checklists and ratings we are. From “5 things that say your sex life needs a lift” and “4 sure signs that s/he is cheating on you,” “15 moves that will rock your world” and “7 ways to bring intimacy back to bed,” to “How sexy are you?” and “the four things he wants but won’t ask for,” people seem to need something to check off to make sure that they’re sexually okay.
It occurred to me that the need for lists are one of the symptoms, a kind of hallmark, of the sexual baggage that people bring, and then develop, in the first half of their adult lives. I started looking around at who else in the aisle is perusing these lists. And, from a decidedly unscientific observation, those at whom most of the lists are directed, and most of those perusing the materials, fit that demographic. But I get that. How many of you have made an actual or mental list of the following in the course of your sex life, and used them to gauge whether you should feel good, or not so good, about it?
- Sexual progression (holding hands, first kiss, first boy/girlfriend, etc.) correlated with ages.
- The number of sexual partners you have had or not had.
- The size, color, or other features of your naughty bits.
- Places you have had sex (couch, bed, rooms in the house, public places, public transportation, the car, etc).
- Kinds of sex (oral, anal, toys, etc.) you have had or not had.
- How many times (a day, a week, a month, etc.) you have sex.
- Different kinds of fantasies you have (or don’t) about sex.
- Characteristics of addiction or other problems.
- Different sexual positions or techniques that you have tried or not tried.
- How many orgasms you have had or given in one session.
- Kinds or sexual embarrassments or failures you have had.
- Quizzes to tell you about how sexual you or your partner are and whether you such things as “boring,” “normal,” or “kinky.”
- Quizzes to tell you if your sex life is worse/better than “normal” or in some way okay (physically, emotionally, or spiritually).
So, how many did you check? If you checked:
- over 4 and under 10, you are NORMAL
- over 10, you are NEEDY.
And if you checked under 4, you are … probably lying.
Okay, I’m being a bit facetious and intentionally ironic here.
But see? We love lists and ratings. And why not? They’re comforting. So uncomplicated. So contained. So conclusive. Lists are handy and helpful for helping us find our way through complicated tasks, where leaving something out or getting the wrong thing can spoil the experience: travel, weddings, shopping, and sex. They’re also handy for helping us find clear demarcations where there are none. They tell us what constitutes success or failure, and to draw lines and tell us what it means if we cross or don’t cross them. So goal oriented in that way, lists are. So helpfully determinate.
And, sometimes, so debilitating. After all, what is the goal of sex? Being consistently over or within a certain number of ________s? (Fill in the blank). And moreover, why does someone else get to define sexual parameters and to draw these lines in the sand for you … and your partner?
One of the great reliefs in growing older is that you learn to abandon the lists, the labels, and the letter grades. Sure, I think we’re all somewhat interested in how our sex lives compare to others. But as you grow older you learn that it’s just not about them. And it’s not a competition, a test, or an assignment where you have to stay within someone else’s lines. And it’s not about checklists. The ultimate test of our sex life isn’t how many (or how few) items we can check off someone else’s list, but how thrilled, fulfilled, and happy sex makes us and our partners.