There are so many things to adjust to when growing old, but one aspect of it stands out above all others and is the source of great wisdom. Yes, there are the aches and pains, the creaking joints, and diminished physical abilities. There are decreasing tolerance for some things (crowds, loud music, obnoxious people) and increasing tolerance for others (cultures, political differences, religious differences, obnoxious people). There are the worries about health and, for men, the prostate, in particular, becomes worrisome as the urge to urinate become more frequent, the difficulty of starting a flow when the need arises becomes more difficult, and the urine stream becomes weaker when one’s bladder is finally able to empty itself.
The prostate is a very mysterious organ. My understanding of it is about as knowledgeable as my understanding of female reproductive organs. It always has served me well in the past when most needed, even if it often appeared to act all on its own. I believe it is a gland that either is also a muscle or somehow acts like a muscle to restrict the flow of blood out of the penis and cause an erection. It also cuts off the ability to urinate and is the impetus behind the power of ejaculation. But, the prostate grows over time as men age and as it grows it apparently causes urinary malfunctions or incontinence. I don’t believe this expansion of the prostate has any consequences in regard to impotence or the ability to achieve an erection, although relative to the aging process, I am still in the beginning stages of growing old and impotence remains far off in the future, although the anxiety that incontinence is the precursor to impotence grows in proportion to the enlargement of my prostate gland. Yes, prostate troubles are particularly worrisome for men as they age. However, this is not the most astonishing aging fact that we experience. The most remarkable and astonishing aspect of growing old is the diminishment of the sex drive.
Hell, maybe even that is caused by the prostate. Perhaps, the enlargement of the prostate over time is a result of the many past erections. I probably spent 21 out of 24 hours from the age of 17 until 23 with an erection and if the prostate is a muscle (fuck if I know, I am assuming, but likely my medical facts are completely wrong), then all that work, like exercise, has grown the prostate over time. Until the age of 40, I probably had, at a minimum, over 50 erections a day. But, now, I wake up with an erection and, although I still have some days where an erection is ever present, mostly, it seems, there are more days than not that my only erection is the one I wake up with to begin the day. And, going by my theory, if all these erections cause a prostate to grow over time, then maybe the downward quality of my life is being spared by all this lack of erection time, so I can at least have a good pee now and then. Yes, I am pleased to say, that a particularly remarkable and astonishing thing about a diminished sex drive is how many body functions are on par with sex or ejaculation as far as pure bliss and joy. Taking a shit, relieving oneself of a full bladder, flatulence and a sit-down meal of ribs, homegrown potatoes, vegetables and a salad all washed down with an ice cold local brew, are all looked forward too with as much or with more fondness than a good fuck, blowjob or cunnilingus.
Is that sad? I suppose in some ways it is. But in so many ways it is also reinvigorating. Don’t get me wrong, like all body urges noted above, the urge to ejaculate can still become all consuming just as the urge to eat well, shit and piss does. All bodily urges can be overpowering. In the case of ejaculation, this overpowering urge still possesses the capability to either lead one to bliss or drive one to do an incredibly stupid, embarrassing and unexplainable act despite our growing old and our diminished sex drive.
But the sex drive is also revealing of human nature, at least from my point of view as a man. There is nothing more annoying to me than male novelists, screenplay directors or other male artists who cast the elder male protagonist in a relationship with younger female counterparts. Woody Allen is an obvious example, but Philip Roth, Michael Ventura and many other male artists provide similar examples. The annoyance results from completely unrealistic portrayal of these relationships and I don’t mean because of the obvious revulsions most young females have for the aging male body. Despite the universal fact that as we age our physical attractiveness diminishes due to our bodies decaying and our odors becoming increasingly wrenching, I don’t think it is unrealistic to fathom that there might be a small minority of young woman out there who feel a need to be with an older man. A younger woman may feel the need to have a relationship with an older man and to live with him so she can be provided with a sense of security that an older man may arguably be more apt to provide than a younger one. No, what makes the older man/younger woman relationship untenable is not the attraction of younger women for elder men, but rather the inability of an elder man to stay interested in a younger woman once the sexual attraction wears off, which inevitably happens with all relationships, but happens more quickly as the sexual drive diminishes.
Hey, obviously, all men, when presented with the hypothetical lineup of women at a brothel, will choose the younger woman over an elder one. As men’s odors become more repellent when we age, so do women’s. As stomachs grow and various body parts sag, so do women’s asses grow and sag. That beauty is most revealing in the young is a universal fact no one can deny. But it is also a universal fact that there are very few people any of us can stand to live with. Once the sex is over and you are presented with the possibility of cohabitating with the person to raise the potential child that may result from the most recent copulation, it is not an unusual reaction to feel revulsion toward the person you only seconds before were intimate with. There is no better explanation for the oldest profession in the world than that, because when paying for sex a man is spared from even the contemplation of living with the outlet for his desires. For that matter, once you understand the level of detestation we can feel for the human and biological, you can understand why the history of war has always been accompanied by abhorrent acts against women and children.
Our inner and deepest natures are not our better natures. If forced to live with people we would happily bed down with in moments of overwhelming lust, the inevitable reaction will be violence.
The fact that we detest people we have to live with is not an aberration that only a few of us experience. We all experience it in one form or another many times in our lives. The challenge is to choose someone to live with that we will detest the least, not someone we will lust after the most. Once the sex is over, I could not imagine living with a person who has no memory of her Daddy listening to Ray Christiansen broadcasting Gopher football games on Saturday afternoons before turning the channel to a country station to sing along with Johnny Cash on the radio, no memory of the Cold war, and no opportunity to have seen the Replacements perform on Saturday Night Live. Once the sex is over, if there is no history to share between two people, how can there be any possibility to move beyond the detestation that will inevitably result when one human lives under the same roof as another?
And this is how our tolerance grows as our sex drive diminishes. Sex does not keep any relationship together where two people live together under the same roof. Infatuation will always wear off once exposed to another’s habits, ticks, and odiferous waste products. Infatuation can only continue if there is enough separation between two individuals that there is no opportunity to actually know one another. This wisdom is not available to those still caught in the threshold of multiple erections and infatuations. In fact, this wisdom is the first thing to leave us whenever we succumb to the urge for copulation, and it is always immediately recognizable upon the moment of ejaculation.
Our detestation for the person lying next to us and for ourselves is in inverse proportion to the amount of shared history we have for the person. And, of course, this is what makes the affair so devastating. Not to the other, but to ourselves. The more shared history, the deeper that devastation will be. For once we ejaculate with the stranger who has become the outlet for our sexual urges, our detestation for this stranger is on par with the detestation we feel for the person we live with. Without any shared history, we cannot overcome this detestation for the human and the biological that we all share. And the longer we live with a person the more shared history we accumulate. If that person is the mother of our children the history becomes even more impactful.
Of course, it is also true that sometimes the history becomes too painful to carry with us for any number of reasons, including affairs. In those cases it becomes necessary to find someone new to live with. But, even that someone new has to have something from her past that can be shared. A young woman cannot provide that to an older man.
The diminishment of the sex drive as we age is not astonishing because we cannot fathom life without sex. Sex is always an urge with the potentiality for being all-consuming for periods of time – even as we age. But, the diminished sex drive offers us a glimpse into what it means to be human and to be accompanied by all of our foibles and shortcomings for getting along with one another.