Oh no, I’ve just discovered that when I’m an old lady, I’m not supposed to relax on chaise longue and lord it over the rest of my family. According to Gail Sheehy, I’m supposed to turn into a “seasoned woman.” That means I’m supposed to ditch my husband, grab some thong undies, and set myself in hot pursuit of everything in pants that crosses my path: married, single, young, old. Just thinking about the prospect makes me weary–and that, according to Sheehy in her latest book, “Sex and the Seasoned Woman: Pursuing the Passionate Life,” disqualifies me from being “passionate,” the highest womanly goal. Gee, I thought I was passionate: about Prada boots, Fine Cooking magazine, and all-nighters on Sudoku puzzles. But not according to Sheehy, who says I’ve gotta get off my duff and off to work on the Job of Oldster Casual Sex.
Amazingly enough, though, even a lot of liberals–usually major cheerleaders of sexual free expression of every sort–haven’t quite been able to buy into Sheehy’s message of “post-menopausal sensuality” galore. Here’s a none-too-impressed Lakshmi Chaudry writing in In These Times concerning Sheehy’s counsel to the “seasoned” (that’s her euphemism for “old”) to find themselves a “pilot light” lover to help them get started on the road to hot sex::
“Candidates for that first ‘pilot light’ lover to reignite a dimming libido include married old flames, any willing young man in near vicinity-and there are many, if Sheehy is to be believed-or for one lucky gal, an online suitor with a penchant for tantric sex. I guess the latter explains why Sheehy urges online dating on her readers with the fervency of a Match.com marketing executive.
“Judging from the experiences of the women in the book, dating is no less perilous for a woman in her fifties, but all that rejection is a small price to pay for the joy of entering your ‘Romantic Renaissance.’ Yes, that ‘pilot light lover’ will dump you, as may the others who follow him, but heartbreak just allows you to “transcend” the need for something more lasting. Sheehy often veers wildly between insisting on sexual independence (while presuming the financial kind in focusing primarily on middle class women) and rhapsodizing over soulmates, but she is clear about what makes a seasoned woman superior to her younger peers: ‘She is less likely to have an agenda than a young woman: no biological clock tick-tocking beside her lover’s bed, no campaign to lead him to the altar, no rescue fantasies.’ Gee, why don’t I just shoot my thirty-something self already?
“There are some married Passionates in the book, but they’ve usually traded in the old hubby for a new one in their middle age. Those of us unfortunate enough to hit old age in a long-committed relationship usually end up in Sheehy’s less admirable categories: Women Married Dammit (WMDs), Status Quos and Low Libidos. WMDs are women stuck in really bad marriages who are too angry or ’emotionally dead’ to change their fate. Single and married Status Quos are resigned to sex-less lives, lacking the courage to sacrifice security for the emotional risks of a Romantic Renaissance. Low Libidos rank the lowest in her estimation because they’re simply not interested in having a lot of sex: ‘they don’t take hormones or use vaginal estrogen and rarely even use self-stimulation or try to introduce novelty into their marriages.’
“Introduce novelty into their marriages”? What does that mean? Doing it in a threesome with the cat? The most wearying aspect of Sheehy’s book is indeed its implication that happiness is all about novelty. The old things–a lifelong mate, one’s children, good friends–just don’t count. One of the book’s most chilling passages, according to Chaudry, is Sheehy’s brisk suggestion that it’s more fun to spend Christmas in the Bahamas with someone you just met on the Internet than with your own family. In another passage that makes my flesh crawl, Sheehy writes approvingly of a gynecologist who talks his stay-at-home-mom patient into a surgical spruce-up of her vagina by telling her her husband needs to “get something out of” supporting her and the kids. As Chaudry writes:
“When it comes to women’s sexuality at any age, the line between emancipation and oppression is wafer-thin. The sexual revolution may have liberated our appetites, but it has made it far more difficult for women to say no to sex-whether it’s because we feel too young, too old, too tired, too pregnant.”
It’s nice to see a liberal acknowledging that the main fruit of the sexual revolution has been pressure for women to have sex.
“When I grow up, I want to be old,” writes Chaudry. Me too. Believe me, the only thing seasoned about this “seasoned woman” is her special sauce bearnaise for a perfectly grilled medium rare steak.