I rarely write book reviews, but I jumped at the chance to give my honest opinion about a new Cleis book called The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50: How to Maintain--or Regain--a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life.
Why? I've got a good 15 years before I enter the 50+ demographic. Why would I be so interested?
Lots of reasons. First and foremost, I may not be over 50, but my girlfriend is. In fact, come to think of it, I've never been in a long-term relationship with anyone under 50. So there are practical reasons I wanted to read this book.
Another big reason is the fact that I remember when the author, Joan Price, was collecting quotes from people over 50 to include in the book. I remember her encouraging LGBT people, in particular, to tell her about their experiences with sex and aging, so I felt really confident this book would represent the kind of diversity I've come to expect from Cleis Press.
Did I get what I was hoping for?
Oh my goodness, where to begin...?
Because I'm not a reviewer, I'm going to talk about myself before I get into the book. I'll also take this opportunity to remind readers I have my girlfriend's permission and encouragement to share intimate details of our relationship. Wouldn't want you thinking I'm getting all TMI behind her back.
If you're a regular here at Donuts and Desires, you know me and you know my Sweet. You know we've been together almost seven years. You know she's a non-op trans woman. You know that, at the start of our relationship, she doubted we'd ever have sex of any sort and that, over the years, we've broken down so many psychological barriers together.
What I haven't gone into (to the best of my recollection) is the nitty gritty of bedroom physiology. What do we do? Well, a lot of things. Sometimes we might fuck, if she gets an erection, but often she doesn't--and, if she does, it lasts about ten seconds. There are a lot of factors at play there, including age, medication and gender dysphoria.
We've discovered, to our mutual delight, that it's very possible to have amazing orgasms without ejaculating. Not just that, but the most powerful orgasm (of hers) we've ever experienced together happened when she was nowhere near hard.
What I love most about Joan's book, if we're talking emotionally rather than intellectually, is that it affirms the kind of sex I've been having (which is mind-blowing, in case I haven't made that clear). You really don't hear about sex that doesn't rely on erections--at least, I don't hear about it, and I write sex for a living.
In The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50, there's an entire chapter called "Sex Without Erections." This chapter starts out strong and empowering (YES you can have great sex and amazing orgasms without 'em!), although it immediately goes on to cover medical interventions for ED, which I found a little deflating (lots of puns there, yeah). Discussing "fixes" makes sex without erections into a "problem."
I also want to mention something that pulled me out of my immersion at times, and that was the inconsistent use of language around genders and body parts. You know my bias--I'm a genderfucked person with a transgender partner. It can be emotionally difficult to read a sex guide that's too binary. I'm not saying this one is--not always. Sometimes the language is super-accessible ("If you have a vagina" rather than "If you're a woman"; "people of all genders" rather than "men and women"), but at other times it reverts to a binary equation of genders with body parts. I tried not to find that inconsistency alienating, but at times I did.
I'm getting really caught up in one linguistic aspect of this book, aren't I?
See, this is what makes me a terrible reviewer: I always come off sounding like I hate every book I talk about, even when that's nowhere close to the truth. I don't know why I sound like such a downer. Joan's book is great.
What makes it great:
- the focus on redefining sex as we age, including practical and straightforward information about what that can mean
- feedback from dozens (hundreds?) of older readers (including many gay men and lesbians), describing their experiences with sex and aging
- tons of information about sex toys (I learned A LOT from this chapter)
- testimonials from an escort and sex phone operator who work with older clients
- tips for recapturing the excitement of new love
- a chapter on non-monogamy that cites my absolute all-time favourite Cleis book, Opening Up by Tristan Taormino (this chapter was THE BEST)
- (...except for the other THE BEST chapter) a chapter called "When the Intimacy Ends," which has a lot to say about sexless marriages.
"When the Intimacy Ends" alone is worth the price of admission. This chapter really struck a chord, because it called to mind my first "boyfriend" (my only boyfriend, actually), who was in a sexless marriage throughout our entire decade-long relationship. I kinda wish I'd had this book back then, considering our affair was very much AN AFFAIR and not a sensible decision reached by three consenting and mature adults. (That relationship, by the way, was the basis of my fictional Audrey and Lawrence stories and also my non-fiction Diary of a Teenager in Love with a Teacher.)
I could go on (and on and on) because there's so much I haven't covered, including "The New Rules of Dating" and multiple chapters on health concerns, but, honestly, this review would last for days.
I recommend The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50 to anyone over 50, whether they're straight, gay, partnered, poly, single, and especially anyone who's been widowed. Joan's description of and anecdotes around her own grief are powerfully moving. Additionally, this book is a MUST for sex educators, sex workers, sex bloggers, and all variety of sex nerds.
I'm not going to say everyone in the world should go out and buy a copy of this book. It's not written for younger people, and it doesn't really touch on inter-generational relationships (the chapter about dating employs the term "age-appropriate singles," implying there are... age-INappropriate singles?). The target demographic is right there in the title. It's not called The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 22, now, is it? If you're 50+ and sex positive (and you're receptive to being told to masturbate regularly, whether you want to or not!), this really is the ULTIMATE guide.
GISELLE RENARDE’s erotic fiction has appeared in well over 100 anthologies, including Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Women’s Erotica, and the Lambda Award-winning collection Take Me There, edited by Tristan Taormino. Giselle's novels include Anonymous, Cherry, Seven Kisses, and The Red Satin Collection. Her work has been published by Simon and Schuster, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and Oxford University Press.