Author’s note: This is an essay I wrote about eight years ago, when I was thinking of publishing a book of essays detailing the continuing journey of how Keith and I were dealing with sexual dysfunction and aging. I have done some editing for clarity only—leaving the honesty of the time, events, and emotions intact.
For those readers who are unfamiliar with our book or are new to our story, I’ll give a very brief update and positioning of this piece: After having surgery for removal of Keith’s prostate due to cancer at age 49, Keith became impotent and tried various means by which to regain his ability to achieve an erection*. This essay was written after the failure of Viagra and penile injections, and prior to Keith and I making the decision for a penile implant.
As we moved into the middle years of our marriage and experienced the failure of the least invasive means of overcoming impotence, we were now to experience a time of great growth in our understanding of sexual intimacy—physically and emotionally.
Dealing with sexual dysfunction had been the most difficult, complicated, and perplexing issue we had faced in our marriage. Still, as we began to heal, we experienced the most educational, enlightening and enriching expansion of our definition and practice of intimacy.
When our last non-invasive hope of achieving an erection (the penile injections) failed again and we finally gave up on them—for good—we were able to stand on the totality of all we’d learned thus far. And, instead of crumbling, we elevated to a new level in our relationship.
Keith and I became students again. We read books on how to enhance and enrich our sexual experience. We paid particular attention to the chapters on foreplay, creative sexual positions, and the diversity of sexual anatomies. I wanted to experience better orgasms, so I started reading about (and sharing with Keith) how to increase female arousal. We talked about the G spot and together we explored what we learned with our bodies.
At first these actions seemed awkward, uncomfortable, even embarrassing—as if this was stuff we should have already known. But our motivation to continue to enjoy sexual pleasure and satisfaction was more powerful than our hesitancy. We only had to recall our former “no loving touch” relationship to inspire us to move closer together and away from our embarrassment.
We learned together how to give and receive pleasure through touch alone, and the importance of feedback. We reminded ourselves we had time, we didn’t need to rush to orgasm, that the journey was valuable and helped intensify the destination. I encouraged Keith when his touch increased my arousal and gently told him when a new technique gave me no pleasure at all. We continued to use the vibrator on each other and ourselves—knowing that masturbation was a healthy way of maintaining sexuality.
Taking an active role in enhancing our own sexual pleasure was an empowering experience for us. We trusted each other and were intentional about not allowing our words to hurt our egos. We often did check ins—“does this turn you on?”—and we agreed to continue to be sexually active even though Keith no longer had a strong desire. This required a promise that we wouldn’t turn the other person down if they wanted to be sexual.
By means of the vibrator and Keith’s targeted touch, I began to achieve not only consistent, satisfying orgasms but soon multiple ones. Keith said this new level of pleasure on my part gave him increased pleasure, because he could now please me so much.
The children were in college, so we had the luxury of time alone. We could be naked in the kitchen, argue loudly, and make up unabashedly. We could go “to bed” in the middle of a Saturday or sleep in on a Sunday and enjoy a late breakfast, naked.
Our involvement with the University of Minnesota’s Program in Human Sexuality helped expand our knowledge and appreciation of the vast array of human sexual behavior and gave us the courage to explore an Adult Sex Shop, where we purchased a strap-on penis (which neither of us liked) and giggled at the array of clothing displayed. Given what we had been through, we found we could easily suspend judgement and have empathy and understanding for how far people will go to in order to experience sexual satisfaction, especially when they are not considered “normal.”
Truly there were many times when we felt we were not “normal”—due to our needing medical intervention and devices in order to engage in the universal desire and drive that is present throughout the human and animal species. But as with all adaptations—in time—what once seemed awkward and clumsy eventually becomes easy and “natural.”
These days I often find myself being grateful for our early in life learning about sexual aides, because in many ways I feel we are ahead of the game compared to many older couples. Even without major health issues, it is simply a fact that as we age, sex and intimacy requires adaptation, adjustment, fresh conversations, vulnerability, and creativity in order to maintain and provide pleasure.
So even as we begin our seventh decade of life, we remain open to continual adjustments and alterations…with one notable exception. The stable and constant aspect of our intimate relationship that will never change, is that we will always be open and honest with one another, and will always welcome feedback.
* See previous essays or go online to read about the various means available to help create a penile erection including medications such as Viagra, penile injections, vacuum devices, and penile implants, which Keith has now.