I often cry when Keith and I make love. I’ve done so for nearly thirty of our fifty years together. The first time I cried was after my father died. At the peak of my climax, I started sobbing.
Keith was alarmed. “Did I hurt you?” he asked, concerned. I assured him I was physically fine, and that I, too, was surprised by the outburst. “The tears just came,” I said, “out of the blue.”
As the years have passed, the co-mingling of my tears with orgasms have become a given for me—as a release from stress or a let down from an emotional event. But my tears can also flow when our lovemaking has been especially intense. Last week I cried because I was so grateful Keith and I continue to make love—often—even in our seventies.
“Hon, do you think many couples our age are still making love?” I asked Keith as we lay embracing. “Or do you think they’ve given up?” Keith responded with a sleepy, “I don’t know, but I’m sure glad we still do”, as he dozed off contentedly.
I, however, lay awake, my mind digesting the feelings my body had just released. I thought about how much our lovemaking had changed over the years, from young inexperienced hormone-driven ‘kids’ to now 70+ great-grandparents.
Initially it was all about intercourse. Sex just worked. Desire, arousal, intercourse, orgasm. (Except, of course, the occasional ‘quickie’.)
Everything changed when Keith became impotent at 49 due to prostate cancer surgery. Keith felt emasculated. He stopped hugging and caressing me, saying he ‘didn’t want to start something he couldn’t finish.’ I felt rejected and couldn’t image how our sexless marriage could survive. Once we stopped making love, we started arguing, bickering and we pulled away from each other. It was obvious we weren’t happy and our marriage was in trouble.*
After many arguments, and with great hesitation and embarrassment, Keith returned to his urologist for help and was given a prescription for penile injections, which enabled him to achieve a medically induced erection. Once again we were able to enjoy intercourse. We felt all was well—we could make love anytime we wanted.
But then, after five years the injections stopped working.
Once again Keith was unable to achieve an erection, which to us at the time meant we couldn’t make love. We pulled away from each other and again stopped touching. We grew distant. The arguing and bickering returned.
It was during this period of despair that we began to understand the essential human need for touch. It is said babies will not thrive if they are not touched, and Keith and I realized the same was true for us. It wasn’t the absence of intercourse that caused us to feel distanced, unloved, unwanted—it was the absence of intimate touch that caused us to pull apart.
Determined to not give up, we sought the assistance of a sexual health therapist. He confirmed what we had discovered on our own: the critical role of touching. He assured us that we were well on our way to re-framing and redefining how we made love. We learned to talk openly with one another and to express our needs and wants. We touched each other’s bodies with a new openness and tenderness. Soon we realized we could pleasure each other without insertion. And we could once again experience the unique mystical sense of harmony, love and oneness that arises when bodies co-mingle. Surprisingly, our lovemaking became more intense, as we focused on giving and receiving pleasure—void of intercourse.
Remembering the pain of abstinence and emboldened by our new definition of pleasure, we vowed to never stop making love again—in whatever way was possible. It was a given that our lovemaking would change as we aged, in ways we could not foresee at the time, but we had confidence we would always touch, intimately, in order to pleasure each other.
I sighed contentedly as my thoughts returned to the present, snuggled in bed with Keith by my side. I again wondered how many couples had given up on sex due to heath issues or aging. I was certain there are many. How sad, I thought. How sad our society places so much emphasis on correlating making love with intercourse. How sad many people feel there is some age when making love is no longer important. How sad when couples stop touching intimately.
I looked at Keith sleeping contentedly and made a silent promise…to never stop touching again.
* We documented our story in our book Making Love Again: Hope for Couples Facing Loss of Sexual Intimacy.