I know a person who’s having a midlife crisis. It isn’t a secret; that’s part of the crisis. His issue comes down to an excess of sex that he talks about excessively. His best friends don’t mind that he’s scoring more than LeBron James in a heated playoff — they just wish he’d stop flaunting it.
He was beautiful at 25 and universally lusted for. At 45, he was freakishly youthful, increasingly whorish, but quiet about his insatiable lust. The hunger that peers thought would subside only grew more intense through his fifties. Now two years into his roaring sixties, the calendar’s packed, his cell phone is beeping and he can’t stop marveling at his own penis.
There’s nothing wrong with sexual pride. There’s a time for flaunting and beating our chest. But after we graduate from high school, the trick is to learn to age sexually in a way that complements what we’re becoming. Sean Connery knew when he’d outgrown Bond and needed to explore ‘distinguished.’ That’s because Sean Connery has taste and this guy who’s having his midlife crisis refuses to obey similar dictates.
It seems to be a question of focus. After a certain age, sexual hunger begins to look desperate. There’s nothing more embarrassing than a capon strutting like a rooster or mutton dressing up as lamb. It has nothing to do with our private sex life — it’s how we present ourselves to the world that’s in question. Viagra and its cohorts have made this question infinitely more complex. We’re becoming a nation of petrified wood — geezer hard-ons and bitter women. I actually saw a woman shudder when she talked about her husband’s phoenix-like rise. She told me that she missed his E.D. (using the current euphemism for impotence) and wished he’d get old the old-fashioned way.
In extreme cases, drugs can be helpful, of course. We are all entitled to the very best sex life we can possibly muster. It’s only a problem when it’s an imitation of youth, a stayed-too-long-at-the-fair kind of thing, a refusal to give up the teenage ghost. What works at 20 does not work at 40, which in turn does not work at 60something.
Luckily, there’s a whole different approach. It’s entirely possible to age sexy without any struggle to young it up. On the beach in France, where we spend our summers, there’s a woman who sunbathes every morning — she’s 70, if she’s a day. She wears a bikini, but not too skimpy, does not dye her silver hair and is as hot as any one of her topless, thirty-something friends. She hasn’t had a stitch of work, her breasts aren’t pumped up like honeydew melons and she’s absolutely a sexy creature. It’s her laugh, her attitude, chutzpah and zest. She climbs sand dunes like a billy goat and flirts secretly like a courtesan. Her age is precisely what makes her sexy; she wears her advanced years with more savoir faire than anyone I’ve ever witnessed.
Watching her, I think often of Anna Magnani, the Italian film star, and her great line to a photographer. He wanted to airbrush out her wrinkles but Magnani wouldn’t hear of it. “Don’t take out a single one,” she said. “It took me so long to earn them.” The word character comes from the same root as etching. Maybe we’re meant to be etched by life, the brush strokes changing the role we play. It’s character that keeps us sexy, provided we believe we’re sexy. Self-belief is the backbone of sexiness, I think. And that doesn’t come with sell-by date.
As for the guy with the raging libido, he shows no signs of slowing down. I’m filled with admiration at times, for his stamina, his joie de vivre, his refusal to follow common sense. He has the courage of his convictions and couldn’t care less about his critics. This, too, is admirable, and I hope he enjoys himself every time out. I just can’t imagine living that way.
Not for any moral reason — there’s nothing immoral about lots of sex. But because I don’t want to be that hungry. Sex ruled my life long and hard enough to last me several reincarnations. Now that 60 is on the horizon, I don’t want to be like a hungry ghost, starving for something out of my reach. It’s like getting stuck at the salad bar. The appetizers are irresistible but you never get a good square meal. You never feel like you’ve had enough. Even when you’re stuffed, you keep on eating. The part that needs feeding can’t be fed. And that only makes you hungrier.