(Warning: adult content. Reader discretion is advised, whatever that means.)
When you read the Washington Post Style section, you learn to take what you read with a grain of salt. If I am to take the article Cupid’s Broken Arrow by Laura Sessions Stepp in Sunday’s Washington Post at face value, male impotence is an emerging problem on college campuses. I must say the article certainly got my attention, as well as the attention of I am sure every male Washington Post reader out there. It is almost enough to have us rush to our doctors for an emergency prescription of Viagra. After all, if young men cannot get their wood up, what does that mean to us middle age guys at age 49? Is it time to have a penile implant installed?
Okay, on closer examination the article discusses just a few brave men who are having this problem on campus. In other words, it is anecdotal, not a based on any scientific study. This is probably just as well. Still, I remember being nineteen and on a college campus. My hormone levels could not have been any higher. Even ugly women were looking good. Any available woman would have done. There were of course a few problems. I was shy. In addition, the women were not putting out. That is not to say that no women were putting out. However, those that were did not seem to want to have anything to do with me. I was not enough of an alpha male for their tastes. I still had pimples and even worse, braces. If I had a problem in that department at that tender age, it would have been premature ejaculation.
That was then. While I had hoped the women of my generation were all sexually liberated, the reality was quite different on my campus. The women I wanted in the worst way were of course the most inaccessible. There were two cute single and blondish foxes across the street from me who were getting education degrees. They went to their Methodists church on Sundays and stayed to teach Sunday school. Therefore, it was up to my roommate Howard to show me a good time. This meant taking me into Orlando to a placed called “The Booby Trap”. There attractive but nonetheless dispassionate topless dancers performed lap dances and rubbed their breasts on my chests while I tried to drink the world’s most watered down wine spritzers.
If I am to take Ms. Stepp at her word though, most women on campus today are sexually aggressive. They do not need a Sadie Hawkins Dance in order to take the initiative with a man. If they like you, they are not afraid to show it. If they want to make love to you, they will be doing the unbuttoning. This is apparently a problem for many college men these days. Maybe their resulting impotence comes from all those lectures in high school about the necessity of abstinence before marriage. On the other hand, maybe they are just not that into the women who are pursing them, but have not learned how to say no. For whatever reason, the erotic connection fails them and suddenly they are half the man they thought they were.
The article speculates that men may need to be the pursuers in order for the mind-body connection to manifest itself in an erection. For sex to work, it may be necessary for the woman to play hard to get. For men, the real turn on may not be sliding into that lubricated home plate, but running the bases. It may be that for men to function below the belt, sex has to be hard to get.
Now if you had told me that at age nineteen, I would have been on the floor laughing. However, as I am middle aged now, I am of a more accommodating frame of mind. Because one of the sad passages during middle age for most men are bouts of impotence. Few of us get through middle age without at least one experience with it. Billions have been made selling us erectile dysfunction drugs so that we can still perform with the stamina we felt in our pimply faced youth. (In truth though, just the idea of Bob Dole getting it on at his age leaves us feeling a bit nauseous. So we are thinking maybe at age eighty permanent impotence is a blessing, rather than a curse.)
Still, there is something deeply unnatural about a young man, his blood still pumped up with testosterone, being unable to make the grade in the bedroom for whatever reason. For at that age, as much as we might hesitate to admit it later, being a stud comes more naturally to us than being a human being with these, well, feelings. So naturally other culprits are suspected. Booze. Drugs. Too much late night partying. What else could it possibly be? At age nineteen, had I had the nerve, I would have been a big lady pleaser at Plato’s Retreat.
Now in my extremely late forties, I am finding that sexually I have more in common with young women of nineteen then young men of nineteen. It used to be that sex was like drinking water, and you could not live without water. Now I am more discriminating. Do I feel like having sex today? Maybe and maybe not. The latter can become a problem, since women tend to peak sexually in their early forties. It is likely that this role reversal that has us nervously running to our doctors for Viagra prescriptions. Yet, even erectile dysfunction drugs will not work if the man is not aroused. Increasingly, we men are asking what’s in it for me? Oh yeah, there is the sex part. Moreover, it sure feels good. However, it is not as if we have not slid into home plate many, many times before. It is not as if sex is necessarily a need anymore. It may be a want. We may want to watch Monday Night Football instead.
Maybe that is the part of the problem with older men and sexual dysfunction. If what turns us on is the chase, and we are in a long term, committed and monogamous marriage, there is not much chasing to do. Our wives might have a headache, or be going through an interminable change of life, or have other issues putting them out of commission. However, most of the time they are reasonably available. Since we are experts at pressing their buttons, it is easy for the chase to become perfunctory. Running around the bases is often not necessary and if we do, it can feel perfunctory too. Eventually, unless you and your spouse are quite creative, sex can become both enjoyable yet a bit boring.
Perhaps that is why at some point married couples just give sex up altogether. I would hope I would not do this, but the older I get the easier it is to imagine. Sex is, after all, both pleasurable and complicated at the same time. When you are nineteen, having sex is like being in a car with eight cylinders and an accelerator with a hair trigger. At 49, the car has a few dents, and the engine needs a tune up. If stepping on the accelerator eventually moves the car forward, you feel grateful. If from time to time the engine stalls, well, you have to expect that from an older car.
Therefore, more and more of us pass the Viagra. It is like slipping some STP into the gas tank. We often wonder though if what would really please our midlife engines would be to take our engine for a test drive on some different roads. We are not entirely sure though whether our engines would take us down that road even if we want them too. So maybe it is better to keep idling the engine. Or, since the needle is starting to point to E, maybe it makes sense to just turn off the engine until there is a need drive somewhere.