I didn’t see what the problem was. I’m a perfectly respectable woman who knows what she wants and has the ability to pay for it. At 83, I may be a little older than most, and legally blind, but generally speaking, people are pleased to welcome me into their shops and boutiques and promptly move forward to offer assistance.
But here? In this sophisticated SoHo sex store? It was like a parting of the waters, with me marooned on a distant shore. No one was asking if I needed help finding anything. Worse yet, the friend I had invited specifically to review and report on the merchandise seemed to have vanished. Had she been magically vaporized in a mist of embarrassment by the array of multicolored dildos greeting us upon entry? What did she expect in a place like this? Variety is their specialty.
I had it in mind to purchase a couple of delightful toys because I believe in the pursuit of happiness for people of all ages and proclivities. To this end, I was ready to buy, buy, buy, but there appeared to be no one to sell, sell, sell. Visually impaired as I am (as denoted by my jaunty, bedecked cane), one could surely see that assistance was imperative. Now, more than ever, I needed my companion.
But she had scuttled into some distant corner. She had seemed game, at the start, to accompany me on this shopping expedition. Why was she balking now? Surely it wasn’t possible for functioning adults to be bashful because they’re in an environment dedicated to pleasure. Such a disconnect would be absurd in this day and age, wouldn’t it?
My motto is: Sex for one, sex for two, sex for all who desire it. And that emphatically includes those of us who are deep into old, old age.
I find prudishness around sex shops baffling. I grew up in the 1950s when many of us were in thrall to Dr. Freud’s pronouncements concerning simultaneous vaginal orgasm. In the world of psychoanalytically prescribed correct sex, the use of accouterments would diminish the primacy of the almighty male organ. Out of the question back then. But surely we’re no longer bound by male ego syndrome.
Do we really believe that the poor things are so fragile that unless they are a woman’s one and only source of sexual pleasure, they will lose their status as masters of the universe? Why would we impose such a burden on these harried souls? We all know that any right-thinking person wants to please his, her or their partner, friend, passing fancy or recent acquaintance. Such a person will sometimes, under some circumstances, be happy to suggest bringing in reinforcements.
For some of us, the era of the quickie is over. Nonetheless, a midday solo excursion or a teatime rendezvous for one might be just the ticket. No matter the setting, Toys Can Be Us for adults.
When people disparage sex shops, they often do so with the cliché that “sex should be natural.” Well, yes, but sometimes sex can be amplified with music, scent, fantasies and toys, as well as touch and stroke. And, of course, all of these additions can enhance one singular sensation as well as delectable duets, trios, quartets and so on. Could it be that we are still estranged from our vaginas? If my shopping companion was overwhelmed or undereducated on such matters, it was my duty to set her straight.
Rescue was in order. I knew I had to engage and dispel whatever bizarre notions she had that were keeping her from her appointed task of being my eyes. Why was she not surveying the scene, deciding on an appealing display of inventory and marching us interestedly down that aisle? Was it a question of age? Hers, not mine. She was, after all, a sprout of only 40-ish. Perhaps her elusive behavior might simply be the folly of youth.
Locating my shopping companion at last, I laid a comforting hand on hers. “Speak up!” I said. “Why the timidity?”
“I thought you were joking when you mentioned a jaunt to a sex shop,” she said. “We don’t do this where I come from. Lord have mercy.”
I could almost hear her blushing.
“My dear,” I said. “Total pride in all of our adventures is another one of my mottos. No shame, no judgment.”
Was there a problem with the idea of an old, blind social worker as sexual enhancement guru? Or was the problem my clear voice penetrating the hushed environment? I didn’t know. No use in giving her distressed thinking any more airtime. I grasped her arm firmly, and we sashayed together down the aisle.
Pink, purple, baby blue, turquoise — so many intriguing items in such delicious colors. I will not detail the equipment on offer, as I want to encourage personal journeys of exploration.
A bar of music floats through the window, bringing flashback memories with it. An evening of slow, solitary enjoyment. A fragrant bath, self massage with scented body oil, a special play list, a special menu to assist in adjusting the rhythms of pleasure. How convenient to have that soupçon of electrical energy tucked into the night stand drawer. Instant inspiration. A new, modern meaning for the old timeout.
My companion and I completed our purchases. Released at last from her preconceived notions, she had gotten into the swing of things and followed my good example: Purple rules! We exited the store swinging twin shopping bags and stood at the corner laughing. Two friends enjoying the snap, crackle and pop of life.
There should be no age limits on the sensual, sexual life. Erotic energy is always age appropriate. It is a way of being in the world, a gala twist we add to our mundane routines. We flirt with the bus driver, wear a red slip under a black dress, let a perfect piece of chocolate melt tantalizingly on our tongue.
Our bodies are our friends — not just trays to carry around our heads. We register the world through our senses. Sources of grounding and delight. And although in old age we are familiar with diminished hearing and vision, let us use our deficits to pull closer to taste, touch and smell.
We’re in the final act. We can let go of so many things. Climbing and striving, for example. Body shaming, for another. Most of us have come to terms with gravity, as manifested in our somewhat altered body shapes. The self-doubt that can blight even our most intimate moments no longer prevails.
We must center pleasure: It is our freedom. Always available, our sensory reality locates us. It is how we honor the prodigious gift of being alive. We land in the breath, blood and bone of our physical beings. Finally, we belong.
Why not continue the celebration with some treasures from a sex shop? I live in the complicity of longtime love. Two conspirators, living in the comedy of our messy, complicated and beautiful lives. Toys or no toys, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the laughter. The humor of our preparations for liftoff. Funny but sometimes laced with sorrow. We old ones know we will lose each other one of these days. Someone has to go first. I’m not kind; I pray it’s me.
But in the meantime, my focus is on closeness. I want unencumbered, uninhibited and unmitigated mind, body and partner-to-partner union.
In the secrets of our flesh, my partner and I find each other. We delve and discover. He sits on the edge of the bed, removes his glasses, folds them neatly and places them on the night stand. He is deliberate, my love. He focuses with intention.
When he turns his head, I can’t see his expression, but I believe I can feel it, and I know what will come next.
He turns off the light.
Tucked in his arms, I match my breathing to his. A touch, a word, a caress. I sink down, five fathoms deep. I stretch out, am gathered up. I prepare to fly. We live in old bodies, this man and I, but for the moment, we live — strong in desire, sure in the bright joy of our flight.