When you are in your 20’s no one ever tells you how your body will age sexually. You just think it will go on with the same intensity and functionality forever. But the reality is a bit different.
In my early 20’s I was driven by my attraction to men with an urgency that could take over all thought and reason. I would get so aroused sexually that I felt I would burst if I did not find a sexual outlet with a man. Masturbation would suffice for a while, but over time it was not enough. When the pressure to be with a man would rise to the point where I could no longer contain it, I would make the drive into Manhattan from Brooklyn, where I went to college, to one of the bathhouses in lower Manhattan. I would wander the halls with a mixture of fear, anxiety, and excitement, usually finding an outlet in the steam room.
By my mid-thirties, the urgency of my 20’s had given way to something more moderate and controllable. I married a woman that I had fallen in love with and at 34 made the commitment to her and our marriage. Four years later we had a son. Yes, I still looked at handsome men and found them attractive, but I did not feel driven to take any action.
Beginning in my early 40’s my body began to change even more. I began to see some initial difficulty maintaining an erection. I also began to experience minor difficulty urinating. The urologists I went to attributed my erectile disfunction to my diabetes, even though I maintained excellent blood sugar control. I was offered samples of Viagra and Cialis for my ED to try. The urologists also diagnosed BPH, (Benign prostatic hyperplasia), which essentially is an enlarged prostate, which can make urination difficult.
I found that Cialis helped me achieve and maintain an erection, but it also made my penis feel wooden and less sensitive. In the beginning, I hated the idea of taking drugs. It hurt my own sense of male virility. But soon I began to see the drugs as something akin to wearing glasses that would help me function better sexually.
In my early fifties, my sense of who I was as a gay man began to change. Maybe it was the culture, which had gotten so much more accepting of LGBT, or my own sense of my aging body, but I was starting to think more and more about leaving my marriage and coming out.
After the first few years of our marriage, sex with my wife had grown infrequent and increasingly dysfunctional. My son was now in high school and had turned out to be a wonderful young man, so I did not feel the need to stay married just for him. The thought of my son going off to college and me being alone with my wife for the rest of our lives seemed like a prison sentence. Increasingly I felt claustrophobic in my marriage and began to think more and more about leaving the marriage and what my new gay life might be like. The Meatloaf song played in my mind and these lyrics tore me up: “I’ll never break my promise or forget my vow. But God only knows what I can do right now.”
There were so many wonderful cultural signals that the world had changed for LGBT, but one that I loved was Glee. One memorable event was the 2010 Glee Christmas show with characters Kurt and Blaine singing, Baby, It’s Cold Outside. It melted my heart to hear this classic song that I loved, sung by two men in love. I cried. It softened something frozen in me.
As I entered my 50’s another change in my sexual functioning began to occur. With the help of Cialis, I could now easily maintain erections, but I began to experience difficulty achieving orgasms. I consulted a number of different doctors who all proved me with similar answers: there were lots of treatments for premature ejaculation, which I did not have, but almost no treatments for difficulty achieving an orgasm. Most often they attributed the difficulty achieving an orgasm to my diabetes, but had no real basis for the diagnosis, except that my diabetes was something that they could point to.
Last year I began to take a beta-blocker because of my BPH. The beta-blocker helps urine flow by smoothing the muscles in the prostate, and I found the drug made a big difference in my ability to urinate. But the beta-blocker had another ‘wonderful’ side effect: retrograde ejaculation, which essentially meant a dry orgasm. The drug had another dimension as well, an almost flatlining of any sensation when I did reach orgasm. So what was once a roar when I was 20 became a whimper at 55.
In my coming out as a gay man, which began in my mid 50’s and leaving my marriage to a woman, I was clear on a few things. It was no longer the destination, orgasm, that I desired, it was the journey. I really enjoyed long passionate lovemaking sessions with a partner and if orgasm happened too, that was great, but it was not the end-all, be-all. As I began to date and play sexually with guys, I found that a lot of men, even in their 50’s, were driven to achieve orgasm, but often we’re not very interested in the journey. This left me very dissatisfied.
One of the things I loved from the beginning with my boyfriend is that we both enjoy long passionate lovemaking that is sensual, intimate, and very satisfying. Sometimes we come and sometimes we do not. Achieving orgasm is great, but it is no longer a single destination I seek. It is the journey that I really enjoy.
I no longer have the orgasms of a twenty-year-old, and in large part, I do not care. The passion and sensuality with my partner is the kind of intimacy that I had hoped for as a twenty-year-old but never seemed to find. I have found it now, even though my body does not work as well as it once did. But in so many ways today, I am more satisfied than I ever was at twenty.