Let’s talk about sex. Or, better yet, let’s read and write about it. What I like about a good sex scene is the inherent drama in it: emotion or a lack of emotion; violence or tenderness; boring sex, humorous sex, shameful sex — a sex scene can have any possible focus.
But what I want to talk about now is sex and aging. I turned sixty last week. The subject of sex and aging is dear to my heart. Don’t worry, I won’t be describing old ladies or men in lust; there will be no sagging skin, no false teeth at the bedside. Not here, not now anyway. When it comes to writing sex, I know what’s considered polite; I know better than to deviate by presenting characters who are not young, firm, within proscribed BMI parameters, or in possession of all their senses and fully functioning body parts. Not, at any rate, without presenting a full profile first — personality, setting, story arc. The whole shebang must be intact before introducing bodies that are not ready for prime time.
You may argue that a developed story is necessary for any good sex scene. Perhaps. But, even after a writer has established interest in the characters, a scene with bodies that are old or fat or differently abled must be handled with more delicacy than a scene in which the bodies are youthful and good-looking. If the scene is to be accepted at all, that is. The taboo against same-sex scenes in mainstream literature is beginning to lift — and a heartfelt Yeah for that. The taboos against aging bodies, the bodies I am most interested in discussing here, are not.
Still, I believe in readers and writers, especially you folks who are kind enough to be reading this piece. I believe in the power of the word. I believe that representing an inclusive world is worthwhile for the writer and the reader. And like all writers and readers, I am aging.
Because I write fiction, I can write what I know about aging and sex without apparent self-reference.
Or I can write non-fiction with barefaced self-reference.
I love the part of getting old where the memories of throwing blood on Hustler at the newsstand merge with a lover’s little trailer and a book splayed open on a pull-out bed. And a few more books: The Color Purple next to a political white-girl manifesto whose title escapes me, and, because sex is complicated and contradictory, a girly magazine waiting on the floor. How I loved to tease that lover about her porn. How I loved to cuddle up in that narrow bed, on that thin mattress, with my head on her shoulder after sex. And oh, after our hearts began beating at a normal pace, how I loved her reading to me, anything but porn. Now that’s a butch; does it like a pro, then reads to you.
I have written at length about young women in love and lust in my novel The Girls Club. Writing about the longings, confusion, and seductions of Cora Rose, the young protagonist, was a joy. I’ve also written a good many short stories and poetry featuring lusty women of all ages. Sex between young women, like sex between any two people at any stage of life, is layered and complicated, which is why it so interesting to read and write.
See, I told you I wasn’t going to lead you to an old-bodies-in-lust scene. But aging bodies, sex and aging, are subjects too long taboo. There will be old ladies in love, bodies and all, in my next novel. If anyone has read good fiction with sex and aging bodies included, I’d be grateful for recommendations – please do comment here or email me at email@example.com
Of course, there is always research.
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