Since our book Making Love Again was published in 2002, Keith and I have had the opportunity to speak to scores of groups, organizations, and medical professionals about what we experienced ‘then’ and how we are ‘now.’ In our presentations we always stress the need for ‘intimate touch’ to continue throughout one’s lifetime—the touch only a partner can offer. I’m not talking about intercourse here, but rather the soft, gentle, touch of skin on skin. And if possible, body to body touching: lying next to one another, sharing pheromones, cooing and caressing.
A couple of years ago we were asked to speak to third-year medical students at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. The students were bright, energetic, and eager to learn…and they were not at all shy. They wanted specifics and details of how we were able to overcome Keith’s impotence and how we continued to be sexually active. We were pleased to share with them.
The presenter following us was a Mayo doctor whose specialty was Intimacy and Aging. He reinforced our belief that people can be sexually active throughout their lifetime—and it’s good for them. He also added his concern that our society seems to have a difficult time accepting that fact. People often feel there is some age at which people are ‘too old’ to enjoy intimacy and even embarrassed to think of their parents, let alone grandparents, engaging in physical intimacy. He noted this mindset is often observed in short- and long-term care nursing facilities, rehab units, or with people who are bedridden.
He proposed that staff in these facilities should offer ‘uninterrupted alone time’ for residents and their visiting partners. “We’re not going to come into your room for the next hour, unless you call us. Because we want to give you and your partner some uninterrupted time together,” he offered as a phrase that could be used by staff. He suggested manufacturers should make double size hospital beds so couples could lie next to each other…to cuddle, caress, and hold one another.
I know personally what it’s like to feel isolated when constrained by illness or injury. Two years ago I was in a serious car accident and suffered four pelvic fractures and a concussion. After three weeks of confinement in the hospital I was able to return home, but was unable to manage stairs—so I slept in a hospital bed in our living room by myself, while Keith went upstairs each night to our bedroom alone.
I wrote about this experience in my journal and will share a portion with you.
“Keith, I think I can make room for you in my bed,” I coaxed. “I so need to have you next to me, to touch me, to love me.” Keith smiled knowingly, “I’m happy to do so.”
Without needing words, Keith and I understood how our lovemaking would proceed. Through familiar soothing touch we would provide reassurance. Our goal was not to achieve orgasm or even arousal, but rather our intent was to satisfy our physical and emotional need to be close, to be held, to be cared for.
I’m a volunteer for our local Hospice, and it is quite common to see people who have shared 60, 70, even 80 years together stand awkwardly by the bedside of their dying partner, unsure of how much affection ‘is appropriate.’ I find this so sad. Our need to be touched is innate, instinctive, and intuitive as proven by our understanding that babies who are not touched, will not thrive.
Touch from one’s loved one, one’s soul mate, is far more healing, calming, and comforting than any prescribed medication, any physical therapy, and has no expiration date.