On Senior Porn and Going Grey

Photo by Miss Leatherchrissy

Photo by Miss Leatherchrissy

Warning: This piece contains explicit and direct material about the human body.

Why aren’t there any porn sites featuring aging people? Well, there are actually more than you’d think, all of them decades more unrealistic than their younger counterparts. I’m only forty, and already can tell you that the comfort of any given sexual position or activity is its most aphrodisiac property. I’m not truly interested in senior sex, but I do wish the daily onslaught of media images included at least the occasional unclothed octogenarian. It would give me some advance warning about what to expect from my own body as I get older. Some people have finally figured out that puberty shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to teenagers—that it might be a good idea to give young people a heads up about what to expect. Books have been written with shiny blue covers and technical language, to be shared awkwardly at the appropriate time. But where is my guidebook for peri-menopause? For perpetually sore knees? For going grey? The books may be out there, but who’s going to read them to me?

It’s not like our parents parade around naked in front of us at this age, especially those of us who have subscribed (or been foredoomed) to the isolated, suburban nuclear family formula: discrete sets of people in our own little boxes, each box with its own sections and subdivisions within, one for each person. Separated by walls, by clothing, by generation, by gender, by the ambition of independence, it becomes hard to learn from each other. I’m pleased my husband and I plan to throw our two children, a five-year old boy and a two-year old girl, into the same bedroom together this year. They might learn something from each other that way, rather than growing up as separate mysteries. It makes me glad they still share a bathtub, as uncomfortable as I feel sometimes when I walk in and she’s pulling his plug. It makes me glad I don’t send my children from the room when I remove or insert a tampon, both kids watching intently with mixed curiosity, study, alarm, disgust and most of all: fascination.

How natural that we should be fascinated with the mechanisms and transformations of our own bodies! Bodies that carry us, express us, experience our lives with us, grow with us, change on us, and ultimately fail on us. I have a nearly photographic memory of each page of the children’s book about puberty titled What’s Happening to Me? Well, I’m ready for Volume 40 of that publication. Who knew that pubic hair turns grey, and then FALLS OUT? I never realized that we go bald everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. What a shock when I let the hair on my chin grow for a few weeks before my wedding, intending to have it strategically waxed just before my nuptials: what I thought was one stray hair follicle stoically producing a single wiry black hair to be thwarted by tweezer week after week, turned out instead to be a bristling forest of at least two dozen simultaneous sprouts! And my feet—my feet are so different than when I was young. Horny, knobby toenails, split heels, cracked, scabby and flaky skin, firmly established patches of parasitic bacteria and fungus colonizing the spaces between my toes…My mother looks at my feet and says, Oh, you got those from me.

I have a book on my shelf that describes everything that happens in my daughter’s mind, body, emotions, language and spirit, month by month for the first three years of her life. In the back is a section describing every possible rash, infection, deviation or scab and how to treat it. Where is my guidebook? Why am I just guessing about all this? Is our country still so locked in its Puritan aversion to the body that our physical discourse is limited to medical discussions of arthritis, or a reactionary addiction to youth and sex? Is it our societal abhorrence of aging that prevents older Americans from baring their bodies? Even the magazine I read the most, written by aging baby boomers and read by their daughters, features advertisements for immortal skin on every other page. Must I always read about my aging body as a condition, in conjunction with its purported cure? What if I don’t want to avoid my age, but would just like to know a little more about it?

Every week, I attend Boot Camp at the YMCA with a group of women all decades older than me, who nevertheless kick my butt on the jump rope. I admit it, I am the creepy stalker in the women’s locker room. I try to be polite about it, but I cannot help lingering over my wet hair as long as possible, to admire all the different bodies on display. All the diverse ways that fat can collect on a body, all the things that happen to skin as it loosens, sags and spots, breasts that elongate and flatten, buttocks that droop. But it is not really the bodies that I admire, nor the aging nakedness that brings out such avidity in me. It’s being in a roomful of women living in their own bodies, tenderly towelling a sore knee dry, gingerly lowering themselves onto a bench to struggle into the shoes so far away on the floor, a younger daughter in her sixties matter-of-factly washing her mother’s hair in the shower stall. What I crave is the conversation and commiseration, the shared wisdom and community of a group of people, strangers and friends, growing old together.

Attending an extended family reunion as a young woman, I shared lodging with my grandparents. Toward evening we modestly retired in turn to the bathroom to don our pajamas. I remember the shock of seeing my grandfather’s bare feet, something I had never seen in all my holidays to their home as a girl. The youth of his feet surprised me, his young feet with stubby, curled toes shaped just like mine. When I visit my great-aunts, we talk about children and grandchildren, travels, recipes, the weather. But it never occurs to me to ask those questions I wonder about as I slowly ease my creaking body to bed at night. Will I ever pee normally again, or should I just get used to the new shape of my twice-pregnant bladder? Will all my toenails eventually be as thick as the second from the left, or is there just something wrong with that one? What can I do with this wiry, flyaway grey hair?

Sure, I could ask my hairdresser. I could email my doctor, saving myself the embarrassment of seeing her nose wrinkle slightly when I spread my toes to show the sloth-green growing there. I could find a book to read or probably even some internet porn with absurd storylines but the right-age bodies. But I’m asking you: the grandmothers, the great-aunts, the uncles and aging fathers. What aspects of your aging body have surprised you the most over the years? When you were forty? Fifty? Sixty? Now? Who has taught you the most about your body in your lifetime? What have you learned? With whom do you talk openly and honestly about your body and all its transformations, its aged yearnings, its regrets, its unexpected gifts? I would like to know. My body is tired of being a secret, and wants to have an honest heart-to-heart with somebody who’s already been there, and is still doing it.

Image obtained from Google Images. Please contact me regarding any copyright issues.

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