Wissot: The intimacy that sex just can’t match (column)
Can you imagine being with your partner and never enjoying sex with him or her ever again?
If you are in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s or even 60s, you probably can’t. I sure couldn’t when I was passing through those decades. But I’m in my mid-70s now and I can.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy sex anymore. I definitely still do. It’s just that I don’t need it to be happy with my wife of 23 years. Want it? Yes. Need it? No.
By need, I mean both physical and psychological necessity. Let’s start with the physical. It’s no secret that the male sex drive declines as men age. From my late teens through to my late 40s I was what, for the sake of this family newspaper, I will euphemistically call “corny.”
I was “corny” all the time. My happiness with my sexual partners was totally dependent on the quality of our sex lives. If we weren’t experiencing mutually satisfying sex, the relationship suffered.
It should come as no surprise to men of my age that I am no longer “corny.” I probably think about sex as often as I did before, which is every nanosecond. It’s just that my sexual thoughts do not lead to immediate sexual arousal as they did when I was younger. My mind may still be sending sexual commands to my body, but my body is hard of hearing. The commands fall on deaf body parts now.
I find this more amusing than disturbing now. Where once I was overpowered by lust and couldn’t wait to get unclothed, that is no longer the case. For one thing, my finger dexterity has declined. I don’t undress myself or anyone else very well. For another, erectile dysfunction is not a recent phenomenon in my life. I have been on the pill for the last 22 years. Spontaneous sex is spoiled when you have to chase around looking for a pill bottle so you can pop a pill.
I think the psychological changes I have felt with aging may have as much to do with the control of my sexual urges as have the physical ones. We all know about the role testosterone plays in men’s sex drive. What is less well known is the part that the chemical oxytocin plays in causing emotional love to compete with sexual desire in men’s brains.
Described as the bonding chemical, oxytocin is what fuels maternal love in women. Men in long-term relationships exhibit greater amounts of it than do men who are not. It is the reason that monogamy for men becomes more possible in committed relationships. Bonding between partners encourages male fidelity by making other women appear less attractive to them (“How Oxytocin Makes Men (Almost) Monogamous,” Maia Salavitz, Time, Nov. 27, 2013.)
After 23 years of an increasingly happy marriage, I can attest to the benefits of oxytocin. Physical intimacy is no longer totally associated with sex for me. I touch my wife in every part of her body on an instinctive, casual and regular basis. It is not a signal that I want her to get ready for sex. It is not foreplay for me. It is a pure play. A spontaneous reflex that may at one time have been tied to a sexual urge but is no longer. It is now tied to a loving feeling.
Getting into bed with my wife has taken on a totally different meaning for me. Where once it implied “getting it on,” now it signifies smooching, holding, squeezing, cuddling, wrapping ourselves in each other’s bodies like a pair of boa constrictors.
I look forward to sleeping with her every single night of my life now. Sometimes it involves sex.
But mostly it means holding the person who makes me happy. That happiness transcends the remaining sexual impulses which govern my life.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at email@example.com.