Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Elderly Like Sex (as much as the kids)

This story made the rounds of the internet news sites during the past week and showed up on the front page of the Bangkok Post yesterday, with the heading: "Many elderly folk still do it." What a surprise! Did someone think humans outgrew sex? Aside from those who deliberately choose celibacy for spiritual reasons, human beings are made to have sex, from puberty to old age. But when you're young, it's hard to imagine your parents, or grandparents (perish the thought!), actually doing the dirty deed.

Predictably, the humor sites had a field day with this story. Among the headlines I found were "Geezer Sex," "Senior Sex Study Shows Nana and Papa Still Getting it On," and "Old People Having More Sex (and It's Super Gross)."

The study, undertaken by the University of Chicago and published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, surveyed more than 3,000 people, ages 57 to 85 and found, according to the Washington Post, "that more than half to three-quarters of those questioned remain sexually active, with a significant proportion engaging in frequent and varied sexual behavior." The report defines "sexually active" as having sex at least once in the past year (which seems a questionable use of the term "active"), and determined that 73% of people 57 to 64 fell under that category, and 26% of men 75 to 85 were equally frisky. Women, according to the report, were less active because they (living longer) were less likely to have a partner. But according to the researchers:
We found that half the men and a quarter of the women reported that they masturbate, irrespective of whether or not they had a sexual partner. This suggests that, among older adults, there is an internal drive or need for sexual fulfillment.
Now I have not conducted any scientific research, but I have had numerous conversations with mostly male and some female friends my age, and I can certainly confirm these findings. When I was a teenager, the idea of my parents having sex was repulsive, and the thought of my grandparents doing it could give me nightmares. But obviously times have changed. It may be that the desire for sex lessens with familiarity. When I was married we may have been "active" according to the above definition, but sex every six weeks or so is not what I would call frequent. Some of my married friends have told me that while love lasts, the thrill is gone. Marital harmony requires accommodating one's needs to the other. There are many ways to sublimate: reading, golf and TV, not to mention gardening, fishing, knitting and fixing the car.

But for many old geezers like me, sprung loose from marriage (however unwillingly) in their golden years, sexual desire is less dampened then inflamed. Practically every woman on the streets is younger and most beautiful, and a feast for the eyes of us dirty old men, in trench coats or out of them. This poses a dilemma. We have been taught by the women's movement to treat all people as persons and not to objectify their bodies. And yet, as connoisseurs of pulchritude, how can we not? Women certainly dress to please (although I suspect it's often to compete with other women), and why should the way they look as they walk down the street not please me? As an older man, I am practically invisible to them anyway.

My friends tell me about their desires and some of their practices, and it is usually with a tinge of guilt, as if such thoughts and deeds are not proper, should be censored, somehow render them damaged goods. Sometimes I think the Sixties, with its situational and do-your-own-thing ethics, never happened. The prime directive is: do not hurt anyone or anything. Beyond that, it's all play, and even divine.

These ruminations occur as I continue to learn about Thai culture and the ways of Thai romance. As friends and faithful readers know, I became entranced with a lady on the romantic island of Koh Samui last January. She was a working woman and our relationship was a transaction more than what I was taught to consider as love. For her it was different. She saw my wealth and white skin as a ticket out of poverty and professed her love on our second day together. For more than two weeks we lived together as lovers. When we parted, me for a flight to California and she to her parent's rice farm in northeastern Thailand, I was captivated and perplexed. It took me months to sort out my feelings and begin to see the situation clearly. I could not commit and I could not let it go; I wanted to have my cake and eat it too, as my Mom would put it.

Even if that relationship was perhaps a mistake, I could not shake the spell that Thailand and her women had cast over me. In early spring I discovered a web site where Thai ladies went in search of farang husbands. I suppose it's the virtual version of a mail-order bride catalog. Dozens of ladies (more!) told me by email that they disliked their Thai boyfriends and husbands because they drank and gambled. They said they were attracted to westerners, even the elderly and the fat, because they thought them kind and warm and possessed of a jai dee (warm heart, the ultimate compliment) They also, wonders of wonders, liked white and even pink skin (many Thais disparage their dark skin). Discounting the gold diggers , the immature and the desperate housewives, this still left a number of intelligent and attractive women who could understand and write English well enough to appreciate and tell a good joke. Over the six months while I was waiting to leave for Thailand, I made a number of friends online who advised me about my plans and helped me to learn about the mysteries of Thai culture, particularly as it applied to relations between the sexes.

But the internet is not real life, as I have had to constantly learn anew since email and the web became ubiquitous 20 years ago. I have set up a number of coffee and dinner dates here in Bangkok with women I met online. The mobile phone is a wonderful device for coordinating meetings, but it did not help when I made an appointment to meet at Starbucks in the Siam Paragon mall only to learn there were at least three (and I had entered the lady's number incorrectly in my phone). Another date has canceled three times because of doctor's visits for acne treatment ("I look too ugly to see you!"). I've already recounted the tale of the two Tas. Neither seems interested in further contact. I have gone to dinner separately with two sisters whom I considered friends more than potential girlfriends. Another lady, in Bangkok to purchase uniforms for her hotel staff in the north, could not finish her lunch too quickly. While I attempted truth in advertising, apparently my age and appearance was a shock.

But I have met someone whom I like alot, a small but spirited black-haired woman who makes me laugh and rings my chimes. She set her sights on me from the beginning of our email conversations. And when I arrived in Bangkok she flew down from her northern city to meet me in person. Aside from some initial fumbling, we quickly became comfortable with each other, and enjoyed seeing the city together. Now we are planning a trip to Phuket where neither of us has been before. Our destination is a Best Western resort on the beach at Karon. The rainty season price is $50 a night.

Although she and I are still in the getting-to-know-you stage and are not yet in love, I learned yesterday that sleeping together, to a Thai, means that we are boyfriend-girlfriend. Another friend has lectured me severely on the need to give up the search for other women after finding one that I like. This morning I sent a text message to the girl from Koh Samui to tell her that I had another girlfriend. This, I hope, will allow her to cut her losses and not count on me as her savior. I should have done it sooner, but I just figured that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Now I need to stop beating around the bushes.

The bigger question, of course, is what I am looking for in a relationship with a Thai woman. Do I want to get married again, for the third time? I have trips planned, to Laos in October and to India in December, and I am inclined to travel alone. Do I want to live in Bangkok or in the provinces, Isan and Udon in particular? I don't have answers yet to these questions. For the most part, I feel like I am flying blind.

Lest you think I have given up the spiritual path for a life of debauchery (or just he pursuit of the perfect Thai woman), let me mention that I have finally gotten good information about Buddhist activities in English here. And I found it on the E-sangha site, in the forum on "Theravada in Thailand." There is a lecture series beginning next Tuesday night to be given by a British Monk, Phra Cittasangvaro. He will be speaking on "The Insights of Insight Meditation." I joined E-sangha and introduced myself, and soon found a friend, a British English teacher named Marcus, who, like me, has been seeking an English-speaking sangha here. We are getting together before the meeting. But unfortunately he leaves at the end of September for a teaching job in Korea. Before then, perhaps I can meet a number of other like minded folks. There are other talks on Buddhism and Thai history being given at the World Fellowship of Buddhism headquarters, the Siam Society, and at Wat Mahathat, so my calendar is filling up.

I have been plugging away at the Thai alphabet, trying to decipher the hieroglyphics, and yesterday while walking down the street I saw I sign that I could read: ยา. It is pronounced "yaa" and it means drug or medicine, a good word to know. Of course, right under the Thai letters it said DRUG STORE, so translation wasn't exactly difficult. But I had learned that was the consonant "y" and that was the long verb "aa." Such triumphs of the understanding make life worth living.

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