The Biology of Fleshly Pleasure


Purple paisley stretching out from yellow ground, by Mary Ann Barton. Inspired by Zentangle: 06/25/2012

Purple Paisley Stretching Out from Yellow Ground by Mary Ann Barton

Dear Readers,

Awhile ago I published a poem about love and sex called Today Love Asks Questions. While the poem was inspired by a real moment of intimacy and happiness in my marriage, it wasn’t at all explicit, or even erotic, since I’m an old-fashioned and somewhat reticent woman. After all, the last time I wrote about sex for publication was an article about a sex therapy conference for the newsletter of a women’s health clinic thirty years ago.

Still, the topic of sensuality and bodily pleasure remains relevant and interesting to me. As my doctor said to me a few years ago, “Sex is a quality of life issue no matter how long a life we have.”

Plus, in doing research for my recent conversation with my urogynecologist about surgery for pelvic floor problems, I learned that sexual activity and orgasm can have a beneficial impact on a woman’s physical health. (See, for example, Pelvic Floor Health for Women by Ellen Braatz, PT and Erin Alft, PT.)

As a professional elder-care provider who writes about aging and caregiving, I’m aware that sexuality and sensuality are extremely sensitive topics. I’m not sure how to approach this area of human experience, or even what I think about aging and sex. I just think that as I grow older and move closer to the end of my earthly journey, I’m becoming more aware of how much I treasure all the pleasures of the body.  The biology of fleshly pleasure is such a gift, such a remarkable thing in itself and such a remarkable element of an intimate relationship. I have an anticipatory nostalgia for the expansive silliness of playful interaction with a loving partner: the jokes we tell each other, the stories we remember about how we met, the pet names we murmur in the middle of the night.

Sex and love aren’t always delicious, of course. Sometimes, in our lives, there’s tragedy and betrayal, or tragedy and pain, or tragedy and loss, or just plain tragedy. But the pleasure-and-happiness part of sex is still important.

What do you think? Is it possible to write about aging and sex without awakening the Internet trolls? Will my spam-filters be working overtime at WordPress this week? I hope not!

In any case, I trust that many of you will enjoy a chance to think deeply about aging and the fundamental pleasures of sex. Let me know how we can keep this topic in mind in ways that respect the boundaries of privacy — our own, and that of others — while acknowledging that the biology of fleshly pleasure is a fascinating part of our common inheritance.


Mary Ann

PS: My poem “Today Love Asks Questions” appears below.

Today Love Asks Questions: A Prose Poem by Mary Ann Barton

Image credit: Koekkentrappestor (Kitchen Stairs) by Kristian Zahrtmann, 1908, via Wikimedia Commons.






9 thoughts on “The Biology of Fleshly Pleasure

    1. Thanks for the link to the article on the performance piece from the Toronto group Mammalian Diving Reflex, “All the Sex I’ve Ever Had: The International Edition.” What a fascinating evening at the theater. Here is a quote from the group’s website:

      All the Sex I’ve Ever Had offers the audience the experiences of a generation. Older adults courageously open up their personal lives and experiences to fellow participants and strangers, divulging stories of first crushes, turbulent affairs, unexpected pregnancies and deaths of loved ones. They chat with the audience, toast to important milestones and sometimes dance on-stage. All the Sex I’ve Ever Had offers an opportunity to acknowledge that our elders have a lot to teach us, a lot to share, and that aging can yield a way of being in the world that is open, generous and fearless. In our youth-obsessed culture, All the Sex I’ve Ever Had re-establishes the notion of a community of wise elders to whom we can turn for advice gleaned from their vast wealth of life expertise.


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