When I was 66 years old, I decided to do something about my thirty years of celibacy. So I did. I put an ad in the personals: "Before I turn 67, I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me." The ad worked for me, too. But one question, among many, that kept me sleepless was this: How in heaven's name was I going to be able to take off my clothes in front of a man when I could barely take them off in front of myself?
I ended up writing two books about that -- A Round-Heeled Woman and then another, Unaccompanied Women -- and toured the country talking about my experiences. In my travels, I discovered that undressing in front of a man was a problem for a lot of women. The stunner, for many my audience members, was that one of the men I dated was young -- very. Graham was 32 when we first met.
At almost every reading I did, someone would ask, "How could you get undressed in front of a thirty-two-year-old man?" A less kind version of that question was, "What would a thirty-two-year-old man want with you?" There were laments as well as questions: "I want a man in my life, but I sag so horribly I'm afraid one look and he would..." Or, "I cannot bear even the thought of rejection, and my body, at my age, just calls out for it."
So how did I bring myself to undress in front of a thirty-two-year-old man, and the handful of suitors who followed? In one word: Fast.
People chuckle at my answer, but I don't, because it was (and is) true. I've harbored a lifelong experience of undressing speedily, out of shame and ignorance about my body that had accompanied me since puberty. My breasts had grown too quickly and too large; I hated them, was embarrassed by them, and knew that the sight of them would certainly discourage any guy from fondling, exploring, touching, all those wonderful things that make up what we know today as foreplay. In 1945 in Ohio, though, there was no such word, just as there was no mention of pleasure or passion. In those days, the unspoken motto was The Less Said, The Better. I grew up in a sexual vacuum, and the situation didn't improve much after getting married in my early thirties. Just shy of 40, I got a divorce -- and in my mind, celibacy seemed preferable to the mortifying prospect of disrobing in front of another man. So celibate is what I remained for the next thirty years.
Then along came my personal ad. And 32-year-old Graham, who, after many emails and picnics and much, much conversation, he made it clear he wanted to take our friendship to the next level. At first wary, I said, "My body is every inch my age." His response? "I like all parts of you." So we agreed to meet at a hotel, a big one, where nobody would notice me or me with him, where Graham or I or both of us could leave early or late, together or not, a place so anonymous as to be forgettable. The hotel was my idea: What I wanted was to be able to pretend, if necessary, that none of what was going to happen had happened. No memory, no fact. No fact, no humiliation.
Surely, I thought, this evening would be a disaster, and the price would be the forfeiture of a warm and affectionate friendship. One look at me naked and oh god, what if he jumped out the window? I could have decided against this foolishness, but I didn't. After all, what if I turned down this wonderful man and spent the rest of my life kicking myself?
So there I was, in this hotel room waiting for Graham. I had bought myself one of those giant cans of Sapporo beer, figuring that one look at me would deter him from proceeding further. In he came, and after a little bit of fooling around -- as in kissing, which he is profoundly good at -- he said, "What are you afraid of?"
"I'm afraid that you won't like me," I replied. How could he help it? I would be ugly. My thoughts seemed not to be his, though, for he raised me out of the chair and lowered me onto the bed and turned slightly to remove his clothes, which he placed neatly on the chair. In that instant -- and I suspect he gave me that instant -- I disrobed, dumped my underwear (no, I didn't buy new stuff) into a pile on the floor and slid like lightning between the sheets. He joined me there, slid his hand along my thigh and onto my breast, which amazingly seemed just the right size in just the right place. Then he said, "You are sexy." The rest was wonderful. And private.
Now I am 73. And still hold the record, I am guessing, for speedy disrobing. At the same time, after many years, I am happy. How can this be? I have lines, sags, pouches, and flaps all over. And yet, I have a vital sex life with a man my age whose body does not sag, whose inner thighs are firm, whose underarms do not wave in the breeze, and whose butt is right where it was when he was thirty. He is the beautiful embodiment of all the unfairness meted out to women: Old Men look better than Old Women. So what are we women beyond the help of age-defying peels and scrubs and concealers to do?
Take charge and turn out the lights. Why do you think candles were invented? And remember this above all: Men are much more forgiving of imperfection than women are. As the man I'm currently with said once, "Sex is good when it is with someone you really, really like. It's even better when it's with someone you love." He's right. And I think what he says applies to everyone, young and old.