a publication of the sexuality and aging consortium at widener university

The Trash Truck Came Today

By Constance M. Bowes, PhD

The trash truck came today and took away my old sofa.  I had tried to give it away, but had no takers. I then arranged to donate it, picturing a young couple getting a good find for their starter apartment.  The Salvation Army came with their truck and refused to take it because “there was a slight stain” on it; what a wonderful sofa—aging, but in excellent condition–a warm and cozy retreat for a young couple starting out.  When the trash truck came a day later, and I saw my old couch turned upside down and crushed like a twig, swallowed up in 5 seconds by the powerful jaws of the crusher, I thought about aging and sexuality.

When we are not acceptable to ourselves, we begin to worry and think we are not acceptable to others.  We focus only on our perceived flaws.  We see the wrinkles, age spots, sagging breasts and venous legs, and we grieve the loss of youth and beauty in our bodies.  In my counseling practice, I have seen older women who believe they are sexually undesirable because they are too old, or menopausal, or, as is most often reported, they lack libido.  Our culture reinforces the myth that it’s more important to be in perfect condition, desirable and sexy, no matter what our age, than it is to be whole and authentic.  Our fear is that if we are worn, show signs of staining, lumpiness, or our libido has changed, that, like an old sofa, we are ready for disposal.

My research into sexuality and spirituality has recognized that when we embrace an integrated perspective, when we perceive ourselves as whole persons, as integrated bodies and souls, we see beyond the dualism of good and bad.  We begin to experience our body as an integrated totality comprised of  the physical, cognitive, affective, and spiritual. With a whole-person ethos comes authentic feeling and yearning, and a healthy self-love.  With this mindset, we can begin to accept our developmental changes, and our vulnerabilities, with compassion and authenticity  no matter what age we are. The sags, the stains and the flaws all become part of the essential truth of who we are at any given moment: a complex being, ever-changing, adaptive, loving, confronting the struggles and pain that life necessarily holds.

So, Old Chairs, Fraying Divans, Chipped Breakfronts and Flaking Night-tables, make a donation to yourself in the time of aging and change: open to the inner room in which the self you truly are, the beauty within and without, is perpetually new.

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