The Biology of Fleshly Pleasure 

June 27th, 2014, 11pm

Awhile ago I published a poem about love and sex called Today Love Asks Questions. While the poem was inspired by a real moment of intimacy and happiness in my marriage, it wasn’t at all explicit, or even erotic, since I’m an old-fashioned and somewhat reticent woman. After all, the last time I wrote about sex for publication was an article about a sex therapy conference for the newsletter of a women’s health clinic thirty years ago.

Still, the topic of sensuality and bodily pleasure remains relevant and interesting to me. As my doctor said to me a few years ago, “Sex is a quality of life issue no matter how long a life we have.”

Plus, in doing research for my recent conversation with my urogynecologist about surgery for pelvic floor problems, I learned that sexual activity and orgasm can have a beneficial impact on a woman’s physical health. (See, for example, Pelvic Floor Health for Women by Ellen Braatz, PT and Erin Alft, PT.)

As a professional elder-care provider who writes about aging and caregiving, I’m aware that sexuality and sensuality are extremely sensitive topics. I’m not sure how to approach this area of human experience, or even what I think about aging and sex. I just think that as I grow older and move closer to the end of my earthly journey, I’m becoming more aware of how much I treasure all the pleasures of the body. The biology of fleshly pleasure is such a gift, such a remarkable thing in itself and such a remarkable element of an intimate relationship. I have an anticipatory nostalgia for the expansive silliness of playful interaction with a loving partner: the jokes we tell each other, the stories we remember about how we met, the pet names we murmur in the middle of the night.

Sex and love aren’t always delicious, of course. Sometimes, in our lives, there’s tragedy and betrayal, or tragedy and pain, or tragedy and loss, or just plain tragedy. But the pleasure-and-happiness part of sex is still important.

What do you think? Is it possible to write about aging and sex without awakening the Internet trolls? Will my spam-filters be working overtime this week? I hope not!

In any case, I trust that many of you will enjoy a chance to think deeply about aging and the fundamental pleasures of sex. Let me know how we can keep this topic in mind in ways that respect the boundaries of privacy — our own, and that of others — while acknowledging that the biology of fleshly pleasure is a fascinating part of our common inheritance.


Today Love Asks Questions

Today Love asks questions in the garden.

“Would there be someone in my life, dear heart, to come upstairs for embracing? Could it be you, my love, my heart? Could it be you?”

And then, because the sun shines, because the pots of salvia and lavender climb the steps, because the shadows love the reflections and the reflections enliven even dark spaces, because the woman sitting at a table at the end of the terrace wears a peach-blossom blouse, because the yellow petals make such a brilliant marriage with the terracotta clay pot next to the doorway, then Love answers her own questions:

“Yes. Yes. Yes.”

— Mary Ann Barton


This essay appeared originally in my elder-care blog,

Image credit: Koekkentrappestor (Kitchen Stairs) by Kristian Zahrtmann, oil on canvas, 1908, via Wikimedia Commons.

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Mary-Ann Barton

Caregiver; singer; poet; writing a series of essays about aging and sex.

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