In 1991 the hip-hop trio of Salt-n-Pepa released a single off their Black’s Magic album entitled Let’s Talk About Sex. My favorite line from the song is, “Everybody has sex
I mean, everybody should be makin’ love Come on, how many guys you know make love?”
Sex is one of the primary needs that Maslow sited in his landmark work, A Theory of Human Motivation (see the diagram for the hierarchy pyramid). It ranks down at the bottom of the needs pyramid, but is right there with things like breathing, eating, drinking and sleep. It is one of those pervasive things that all humans want and need. And it is not only something that is wanted/needed for the continuation of society, but also for the ability to connect two people together in a way that no other activity can. I suppose that is why God made it as enjoyable as He did.
The problem come in when you have, as I do, a CNS (central nervous system) disorder. I don’t have the temerity to speak for others that are dealing with CNS problems, be they Parkinson’s, MS, ALS or what have you. Everyone is different, and everyone has differing needs and desires. I know for myself, my neurological problems have caused me to rethink many aspects of my life, including the more base. While things like eating, drinking, breathing still come fairly easy, although there are times when the shaking makes using a fork an impossibility so I use a large spoon and feel like a little kid again, one of the primal urges/needs that I do miss is the intimacy of being with another person.
When my mother had gotten up there in years, and was living at a “senior apartment” building she used to constantly complain about how so many of the women there were, as she put it, “Sex crazed.” She couldn’t understand how, at 70+ years these women (and men) still wanted to have sex. She seemed to have adopted the mentality that when you get older, your sex drive should disappear. As I have met older people, I have discovered that this is not the case. They are still needing the basic physiological needs of Maslow’s hierarchy.
The problems come when as the scripture says, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” But in this case it is not about resisting temptation, but rather about not being able to “perform.” When I started this blog, I promised that I would be as blunt, open and honest with myself as possible, and this topic, while it may make some nervous, is one that impacts not only myself but many other people. We, as Americans, while drenched in a culture of sexuality and hedonism, seem to be afraid to discuss the more intimate details of life. Sometimes when I am discussing with my doctor the problems I am having, I can sense an unease with the topic of sex. The solution that they all offer is one of a chemically induced response, but when you lack sensation or feeling, even the best chemical response leaves one frustrated and feeling hollow.
This has caused me to, as I said, rethink what is important, even at the basest level. I have come to realize that it is not “sex” that I miss, although I do, it is the intimacy of another person. The need and want to be held and hold. The desire not so much for physical release, but for emotional attachment. I suppose that, according to Maslow, I have begun to reach that level of the hierarchy that is Love/Belonging. There is a difference between sex and sexual intimacy. One can have the close intimacy of another without getting all sweaty and sticky, and that is something I do miss. The physiological problems I have make it impractical to have that closeness – who really wants to be next to someone who shakes so bad you feel like you are in an earthquake?
Even the closest of friends and family have a hard time empathizing with you when you have a medical condition that cannot be fully explained or experienced. They can sympathize, but that is about as close as it comes. When you do try to explain what you are feeling, they become lost in the maze that is a neurological disorder. They will respond with platitudes such as, “I understand,” or “I feel your pain,” when in fact they don’t, can’t and shouldn’t be expected too. The problems a person with a CNS disorder has are, at many times, unique to the individual. While there may be some across the board symptoms and similarities, each persons body responds at different levels and speeds. And at each juncture the variables change, and the needs change. What I once took for granted six months ago, I now struggle to overcome.
When we’re healthy and strong we don’t realize just how much of our lives we simply go through without thought. Work, relationships, simple chores and sex are not thought of as being gifts, but rather as the simple everyday part of existence. Begin to lose the ability to do those everyday things, and you realize, albeit rather late, how wonderful a gift they are/were. You begin to miss the challenges of work when you are not able to work. You realize how important relationships are when, due to illness, you become more and more isolated. The tasks of washing dishes, doing laundry or cleaning house without having to rest every five to ten minutes make you long for the days when you once could clean the entire place in an hour or two. And when you have lost the ability to have the closeness of another person, the intimacy of being held and holding someone you feel an ache deep within your soul.
I am learning to tell others not to take for granted what they have and can do. Once it is lost, perhaps forever, it is a pain that truly knows no bounds.