Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Better Sex Through Chemistry?

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Don't get me started. Don't get me started on what our society does to women's bodies. From eating disorders to advertising to clinic bombings to fashions, women's bodies are continually exploited and degraded. I began to be aware of this, pregnant with my first child, when my doctor treated my condition as an illness requiring his intervention. And through the early mothering years, when breasts for feeding had to be kept hidden, while "tits" and "boobs" and "jugs" were flaunted.

And now we have the testosterone patch for women to treat the new "illness" of postmenopausal low sex drive. Never mind the risk of heart disease, cancer, or the minor inconvenience of facial hair, voice changing, and acne. More testosterone, apparently, is what we need in the world.

I'm all in favor of aging. Not a popular view in the U.S. But as a Korean American, I grew up with a respect for the aged. Koreans honor their elders and never lie about their age, for each maturing year brings higher status. It can backfire, of course, and youth can feel discriminated against, and not every elder deserves to be revered. Still, I don't see Koreans resisting aging the way we do here.

Okay, so I'm saggier now. I probably shouldn't have smiled so much when I was younger because now the lines are staying. And who knew that you could only wear contact lenses for so long? My eye doctor told me only recently that after 20 or so years of wear, the eyes start to dry out and become less tolerant of lenses, and another friend told me her eyelids have become stretched out because of her years of hard contacts.

With almost 20 years of marriage and three teenagers, my husband and I no longer crave desperate moments of privacy for sex. I remember those years of "sex radar" when our kids could sense a romantic moment coming from across the house, and whatever they were doing, they'd find and interrupt us. It must be a highly evolved form of birth control, a specialized intuition kids develop to prevent having to share their food and toys. But now the kids couldn't care less, and believe me, they don't want to know ANYTHING intimate about us. I can now safely and gratefully say I will never again have sex in the basement laundry room. With our teens eager to get as far from us as possible and our mellowing sex hormones, my husband and I can just snuggle or fall asleep early, choose sex or not. It's just not that big a deal.

Believe me, wearing glasses instead of contacts, using extra lotion, and having less sex are small tradeoffs for how much better I feel as I age. Every year I become just a little more patient, a little less angry, a little more empathetic, a little more loving, and I hope, just a tad wiser.

I'm a yoga teacher, and in the yogic tradition, one of the highest values is brahmacharya, which literally means sexual abstinence. Of course, most yoga teachers sort of tiptoe around this if they even acknowledge it at all, and say, well, it doesn't mean you have to be celibate, it's just about not overindulging in anything, really. But the idea is that as we mature in our practice, all of our addictions and sensory cravings, including our sex drive, weaken their hold on us.

Inconceivable, I know, in a society that glorifies sex. If we're in our adolescence as a nation as some claim, we have an adolescent preoccupation with sex. My son and his friends are like walking phalli. In the growth spurt of adolescence, boys are bathed in testosterone almost as concentrated as the embryonic stage when gender differentiation occurs. I was teaching yoga to my son's 6th grade class a couple of years ago and I had to pull one boy aside and specifically demand that he stop mentioning his penis. Everything was a crotch-grabbing "ouch, my balls" and "watch out, that almost landed on my dick." (In yoga we call this ekagrata: one-pointedness.)

The girls are somewhat more subtle about their sexuality. Still, they sit cramped together on the easy chair, watching Pirates of the Caribbean again, thumb on the remote, and know just when to slow the DVD down to see Johnny Depp at his "hottest," as they moan and sigh in unison.

So if we Americans are in the throes of adolescence, is it any wonder that we believe all women should be available and ready for sex, NOW!? That we should be ruled by our clits? That we should abandon our monthly cycle, where our interest in sex peaks around ovulation when we are most fertile, and dips premenstrually? That we should rise daily with the sun as men do, and not monthly with the moon? That we should be just as sexually active in menopause, after our childbearing years, as we enter cronehood? This is what we can look forward to with the patch, as if Viagra and that ageless hard-on isn't problematic enough.

While I'm in no hurry to enter menopause, I don't want my sex life to be chemically ruled by a patch on my belly. Good riddance to the sexual appetite of my twenties. Who among us, in our most honest moments, doesn't cringe when we think of some of our youthful sexual adventures? When our hormones are raging, it's like going grocery shopping on an empty stomach: you end up with a basket full of chips and chocolate instead of something worthy of dinner. But with testosterone being tossed around like candy by pharmaceutical companies, I suppose this could all change. The relaxed sex life of the forties, fifties, and sixties could be just as charged and messy and tumultuous as it is for our teens. I could sit with our daughters in front of Pirates and lust over Johnny too. Wouldn't my girls just loooove that?

No, thanks. I'll enjoy leisurely occasional sex when we both feel like it, in our king-sized vestige of the family bed years. No more laundry room for me.


Peggy Hong was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in Hawaii and New York. She is the author of a poetry collection, Three Truths and a Lie (forthcoming, Water Press and Media); the poetry chapbooks Lies and Fables and The Sister Who Swallows the Ocean (CrowLadies Press); and a fine art letterpress book, Hoofbeats (Gokiburi Press). Poetry publications include Spoon River Poetry Review, Rhino, Bamboo Ridge, and Mothering magazine, among others. A graduate of Barnard College, she received a Master of Fine Arts degree at Antioch University with a dual concentration in poetry and fiction. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with her husband and three children, ages 18, 16, and 13. She teaches at Alverno College and Woodland Pattern Book Center.


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