Female Viagra: The Prequel

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News flash: The latest effort to boost female desire with a pill is a flop. No surprise to me. I've been there, done that, did it years ago. Here's my story; it begins with a bath. Next, a half hour to dither between dresses, and then a half hour for make up. Finally, the perfume, wait ... I need perfume ... for a phone call?

What you need to know is, I'd never made a phone call like this before.

I dialed. He answered. Now what? Just say it, I told myself.

"I'm wondering if you would care to move to the flirting stage with me?" I said to him. And without missing a beat, he replied, "I've only been waiting since 1982."

Eighteen years? That was it. We would meet in two weeks at a bus stop in the Berkshires.

And of course we both knew why: sex. Not "swept away" sex, not "eyes meeting across a crowded room" sex, but stone cold sober sex ... in two weeks.

And that's how a woman in her 60s made a date to have sex that would change much in her life.

It is said that love begets love. It was my beloved daughter who set me up for this. What you should know is that she has inner fire, courage, and imagination. When she talks, I listen. And shortly before she left for college, she asked me why I wasn't in a committed relationship, her father and I having parted ways some time before. I'd bumbled around.

"Oh, sweetheart ... men can take a lot of time and no end of trouble...."

"Uh huh ..." She raised an expectant eyebrow.

"And I don't seem to meet the right ones...."

"O.K...."

"Really, I'm enjoying my life as it is.... "

She waited. Finally, I mentioned a certain lack of libido.

Right.

Thinking about that conversation now, I realize she wanted to hand me off. She wanted a reliable presence to ground me and keep me on track. Mother management was going to be difficult at a distance, even for her.

"He says that women in their 60s should have the same sexual responses as women in their 30s." And with that my daughter handed me the name of my new gynecologist, along with a piece of advice, "Call now, it takes months to get an appointment."

Do you remember "Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?"

Ah, sex in the old days: sex pre-Pill, pre-Woodstock. The permanent weather report: moisture everywhere. Sweaty faces and damp hands clutching you on the dance floor, wet, slobbery kisses aimed at you in the back seat of taxi cabs, on sofas, while being pressed against the door that's between you and disentanglement. Refuse the grabby young man, but charmingly, in a no-offense-to-his-manly-ardor, no-hurt-feelings kind of way.

Does she or doesn't she? It was a statement of the never-ending dilemma back then. Popularity versus risk: disrespect, pregnancy, isolation (from "nice" people).

Young men had hormones, their behavior was natural. Young women were supposed to be desire-free zones, especially to the adults who noticed their smeared lipstick when returning to their homes or dormitories.

Libido? For what?

I'm an obedient mother in general, but I had my doubts. A doctor for my libido? What was he going to do? Give me a pill?

In a word, yes.

I made the appointment, and came away with the magic prescription. The pill was white back then, but just like today's version of "female Viagra," it was supposed to boost desire in women. I took it every day as directed. I felt nothing, absolutely nothing. What had I expected?

Two weeks later, I woke up with a strong impulse to call M, now. He was a man I'd known for years. We'd met in a support group, one of the many to emerge in the late 1970s New Age moment. The goal was self-knowledge and liberation from patterned behaviors. It was a revelatory process that had some startling aspects, for example, workshops were held in a former chicken coop. But when M, a tall, handsome actor, joined the group, I became noticeably more steadfast in my attendance. When he became my listening partner, it occurred to me to think, "What if?"

I was in New York to pursue my acting career. I got an agent. My agent didn't call. I floundered. Support group time.

We held hands, we wept, we thumped pillows. Above all, we listened: to ourselves, and to each other. We took equal-time turns. I listened to M., and began to register a different kind of energy. M. listened to me, calmly, and remarkably, without directives or solutions. In the light of his quiet gaze, I began to send out tendrils from the cave of my anxiety. My failed marriage, my fear of motherhood, my frustration with my life as an actress ... he appeared to think I could sort it out for myself. He thought I needed to be listened to, not told to.

I wondered if the emotional closeness I experienced with M. might expand to include other expressions of a trusting relationship? Unfortunately there were strict no-socializing rules in the community, and I was fairly sure this would include sex, still.... But it became a moot point when he left for London to pursue his dream of classical theatre.

Settling in to my new life as a social worker.

Good.

Grounding.

But ... what about what we now refer to as heteronormative love? Anything? Politically correct and liberated, then what? And I was facing an empty nest....

Reenter M., 18 years later, he was back, and I was waiting for him at the bus stop.

"Carry your suitcase, lady?" M. loomed up and smiled his beautiful smile.

I tried to be cool, and wasn't, but it didn't matter. One thing duly led to another. He carried my suitcase, and then he carried me ... down in the deep easy chair.

I was feeling something after all: my trusted ally became my lover.

We're 15 years into our happiness now. Has it all been due to better living through chemistry? Was it the pill, or was it him, or was it me? I think it was time. Time and the freedom that comes when we simply follow the energy as it moves between two particular people. Sex without a script, sex without a mental picture. We use our friendly older bodies to express a final layer of desire: the completion of our human longing to belong to each other. We call it love.

I stopped taking the pill some time ago. It had done its job: I initiated the phone call that changed much in my life. After that, why bother?

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