Sex at 60

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About Robert Levithan

Robert Levithan is a psychotherapist and writer. Born on the Island of Manhattan 60 years ago, he has had a varied career in the arts and entertainment fields. His book version of "The New 60" will be coming out in April. He currently writes for The Huffington Post as well as The Good Men Project. Previously, he has written columns for OPRAH AT HOME as The Design Shrink, and for OUT.com. As an expert on living with illness he has appeared on Charlie Rose and Fresh Air and is cited in numerous books and articles. After stints in Santa Fe and Caracas he lives in New York City with his yellow Labrador muse, Sophie, a former seeing-eye dog.

Comments

  1. Sex at 60 sounds great, but not if it’s a recreational, narcissistic path of personal “growth” that prevents you from ever truly connecting with another human being.

    Levithan’s second paragraph says it all: “I will not turn away from that which brings me a feeling of aliveness. I can’t worry about what other people will say.”

    Of course not! We live in America, the most narcissistic country on earth. We’re supposed to let our id call the shots, to hell with other people. Levithan morally rationalizes his relationships, saying “I hope I bring them [my young lovers] the gift of my experience.”

    Question: When a 60 year-old gay man’s superego falls asleep at the wheel, how effective is it to “hope” he doesn’t crash and kill somebody?

    I’m not saying “hope” is audacious, but assuming that one’s presence in a young boy’s life is a “gift” is. At no point does Levithan indicate any bit of hesitation in these relationships, completely denying/avoiding/minimizing/(insert defense mechanism here) his very real potential to inflict damage.

    Age, and a commensurate degree of life experience, are not the only things involved in an intergenerational romance. There is an inherent power disparity between a 60 year-old and a 20 year-old.

    I’ve seen this power dynamic play out MANY times. The senior party has the power to impress the young boy with his wealth of experience, not to mention his (relative) wealth. That’s the real appeal of 20 year-olds. It’s not that we’re young and alive, it’s that we’re gullible and foolish.

    With a 20 year-old, Levithan gets to control how he is perceived, whereas another 60 year-old would see right through his act. Once the 20 year-old wises up, there’s a steady stream of new, psychologically vulnerable 20 year-olds to take his place.

    But you know, whatever, as long as it feels good…

    • Cameron says:

      Amen.

    • JohnAGJ says:

      As a gay man myself, I second Cameron’s “Amen”.

      I will say though that if the above photo is really of the author than I’m impressed. Not even many younger men take care of themselves as well as that. That said, sex isn’t a recreational sport..

      • The photo is not of the author. It is a very appealing photo, however. It hangs in the gym where I work out, and it inspires me. Not only does the guy keep in shape, his expression conveys happiness, confidence, and kindness.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    In response to RC:

    I can’t quite tell if the article is evidence of some kind of narcissistic “have fun at all costs” way of life. He could be exploiting these younger men, but I can’t really say just from the article itself. I don’t see evidence that his pursuit of romantic and sexual pleasure is harming other people. His younger lovers may be naive or impressionable, but that doesn’t mean they’re being used and discarded. At least, there’s no reason to believe he is using them more than they are using him. At some point, adults are adults. They can leave him broken-hearted as much as he can leave them broken-hearted.

    I’m sure many other people think HE is the foolish, gullible one, in thinking that these young bucks are doing anything but humoring him.

    • In this article, the author makes it clear that he pursues younger guys because of what those relationships offer him. They make him feel alive, etc. But the author does not express any genuine concern for how his relationships might negatively affect his sex partners on account of their age differences. It’s that lack of words more than anything that reeks of narcissism.

      [NB: Narcissism and vanity are not the same thing. Vanity is having a high opinion of yourself, narcissism is being obsessed with yourself, to the exclusion of all others.]

      I would agree that an intergenerational romance is not inherently harmful. Neither is a romance across social classes, nor a romance between boss and employee. But the significant power disparities in such arrangements need to be addressed, and I believe that that moral responsibility falls on he (or sometimes she) who is in a greater position of power.

      In the few situations where I have seen successful intergenerational romances, neither partner had prior experience pursuing or fetishizing an older/younger partner. The relationship worked in spite of their age difference – not because such a relationship is inherently mutually beneficial.

      • Henry Vandenburgh says:

        I think the “power differential” stuff is mainly BS.

        • Care to elaborate?

          • Henry Vandenburgh says:

            If you’re an older lover of a younger woman– I’ve probably actually had four of them (age differences were 10 years, 24 years, 28 years, and, now that I think on it, 39 years [almost forgot)]– you know that they’ll probably reject you for someone more age appropriate at some point. They may be with you for the lovemaking, but there are parental and protective overtones that may indicate that they’re with you to “work out” parental issues. I’m not rich, so that hoary stereotype has never played a role, BTW.

            A major motive may be mentoring professionally, being observed (I’ve had this experience much more that actively teaching the woman), giving some limited resources. I’ve always felt the younger woman had more power than I. They always were the one to terminate the relationship. The longest lasted six years.

            • To continue a romantic relationship with a decades-younger person while expecting that he or she will “probably reject you for someone more age appropriate at some point” indicates that you probably value sex more than a deeper, long-term commitment. I would never judge somebody for that – to each his own – but to continue a romantic relationship with a decades-younger person while suspecting that he or she is “with you to ‘work out’ parental issues” is deeply wrong. Very, very, wrong.

              You may not think that a professor’s salary makes you rich, but for those of us in our twenties your financial resources appear endless. Your professional and financial resources clearly put you in a position of greater power, and the fact that these women were the ones who terminated the relationships doesn’t change that power disparity.

              Saying “I’m not rich,” “I’ve always felt the younger woman had more power,” and “they always were the one to terminate the relationship” are justifications/rationalizations/etc. that amount to straw-grasping.

            • Henry Vandenburgh says:

              I don’t think I’ve ever had a relationship based mainly on sex. I think people have relationships based on much more subtle and deep issues. In regard to the “parental” issue, if you look at most any relationship, there are usually aspects of that lurking somewhere there. Of these relationships, only one occured when I was a professor, and that was with a peer.

              The “power” thing has become such a content-less cliche. Or it may be meaningless is another way: supposed “power-differentials” are usual. If one person has a New York apartment lease, and the other moves in. If one person makes more than another. And so on.

              On these pages, there seems to be a tendency to bring back Victorian sensibilities. I’m not in sympathy with it at all. What many of us fought for in the 1960s-1970s was a more libertarian culture, with many of us favoring greater control of corporations and business at the same time. We seem to have received the opposite, of course: greater proposed contol over one’s personal life with business running amok.

              I think your well-meaning post pretty much depands on stereotypes.

            • I’m confused.

              You had previously described the only real advantage of dating a younger woman as being sexual: “They may be with you for the lovemaking, but there are parental and protective overtones that may indicate that they’re with you to “work out” parental issues.”

              Now you say you’ve never had “a relationship based mainly on sex,” and that “if you look at most any relationship, there are usually aspects of that ["parental" issue] lurking somewhere there.”

              Additionally, regarding “the ‘power’ thing,” you had previously said that “I’m not rich,” “I’ve always felt the younger woman had more power,” and “they always were the one to terminate the relationship.” This stream of denials would make it seem like you had always been VERY conscious of the power dynamics in your relationships, readily acknowledging the significance of those dynamics yet refusing to admit that you had the upper hand.

              Now you minimize the significance of relationship power disparities altogether, saying it is meaningless: “a content-less cliche.” You rationalize that power differentials are usual.

              I don’t know what to make of your multiple, competing relationship narratives and laundry list of defense mechanisms. I couldn’t possibly sort them all out. But for the record, sex is not my enemy. Neither is personal freedom. I just think that our actions affect other people, with moral implications. Those are not Victorian sensibilities.

            • Henry Vandenburgh says:

              I guess I just don’t parse things the way you do. And don’t see the need to. I’m not especially using defense mechanisms that I can tell. I don’t think anything I said implied that sex is always uppermost. It could be one reason younger women sometimes choose older men. (And always a partial one.) I think that the way you use “power” is intended to be some kind of a touchstone– it’s but a brief jump from there to living in too fearful a world for my taste.

              Seeing a counter-argument as a denial that implies that the opposite must be true is pretty facile. I don’t agree. Asserting “denial” is a major weapon of therapy as social control.

              I think that you post under more than one name here. I’d like to see you and others post in pro per, as I do. I’ve decided to oppose the “sex as moral panic” point of view in my older age now because I think we’ve gone too far with repression.

              I think real morality doesn’t concern itself with this type of specualtive parsing.

      • Well said, RC.

  3. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    I’m 66, and have had a certain amount of fun with younger women. Never with a current student, though, and only once with an ex-student. (That part DID make me nervous.) I don’t think age matters very much, actually. But it’s usually much easier with someone around your own age, I think. They’re just as attractive, more skilled, and have worked through their juvenile stuff.

    I have had the bulk of sex with women within seven years of my age.

  4. I honestly don’t understand what most of you are talking about. Is it narcissistic to enjoy life and want to share it with people who give you pleasure and to whom you give pleasure?

    I know plenty of people (including myself) who have been in long long term relationships that really “aren’t truly connected to another human being” – they are just going through the motions.

    Why does everyone have to judge? Why do you automatically assume these younger men are getting hurt? Maybe they are quite happy to be with the author and are receiving love and insights about life that have value for them. And maybe they are having fun! Fun is so under-rated and so necessary.

    Maybe you’re all a bit jealous of a very attractive, very vibrant 60 year-old who is able to appreciate his life and isn’t spending it judging other people – but rather living in the moment and making himself vulnerable and open to new experiences.

    • Lucia, narcissism isn’t about enjoying life – nobody here said otherwise – it’s about having an isolated world view. It’s about not caring about others, not even being aware that your actions could negatively affect other people. While fun is not inherently narcissistic, when it is one’s sole pursuit in life, narcissism naturally follows.

      As for your question: “Why does everyone have to judge?” As my mother used to say, “there’s a difference between making a judgement and being judgmental.” In life, making moral judgements is imperative.

      • Henry Vandenburgh says:

        I don’t make many moral judgements. People and relationships can be pretty unique. Clear cut cases are if someone’s is clearly hurting someone physically or directly emotionally. But applying stereotypes to others’ behavior when they seem to be happy (which happens on this site

  5. Sorry, didnt realize this was a gay website. Bookmark deleted.

    • The issues he talks about in the post aren’t just a “gay” thing or exclusively a “straight” thing. This close-minded and immature attitude is disgusting and points to your stereotypes and ignorance rather then the composure and substance of this website.

  6. Jameseq says:

    Fine article, and theres nothing automatically wrong with a power imbalance in any direction, between two (or more) consenting adults

    • You’re right, there’s nothing AUTOMATICALLY wrong with a built-in power imbalance, but it needs to be addressed and finally resolved. When this happens, the relationship can go on and flourish. However, when somebody regularly pursues younger love interests without reconciling their power disparity, myopically assuming that the relationships are mutually beneficial, that’s irresponsible and immoral.

      The key here is the power reconciliation, not “consent.” The word “consent” merely means “not rape,” but you can emotionally/psychologically abuse/damage somebody with their consent, but that doesn’t make it right.

      Can’t we, as a society, have higher moral standards than that?

      • Jameseq says:

        I dont agree with yr interpretation of the word consent to mean, ‘to not sexually rape’. That is a very narrow reading of the word. I hold to the commonly understood definition of consent, that is agreeing to participate in an ‘activity’

        In yr wold view, what agegaps do you consider acceptable for which age brackets eg. Is a 10yr agegap between parties ok for people between 20to30?

  7. RC’s comment are excellent.

    If a younger person is looking subconsciously for mentoring – whether a legitimate request of a teacher or more experienced person or a more insidious attempt to remedy a deficit from poor quality fathering/mothering he/she received s a child, this needs to be called out in the relationship, not used by the person in the position of power to get sex, or “vitality” or “enthusiasm” from the younger person.

    The attempt to make up for a lack of parenting is especially troublesome as the young person is probably very wounded from this neglect and there is difficult emotional territory there. I would think this would basic knowledge for a pychotherapist like Levithan, for example. Alice Miller’s books are excellent on this subject if he hasn’t read them.

    Find your own libido; don’t suck it from others like a vampire, please.

    • Henry Vandenburgh says:

      I love Alice Miller. On the issue of sex with younger women (which is way not the majority of my sex partners,) the younger woman always indicated that she desired the sex. In fact, this is the only way I’ve ever ended up having sex with anyone. The woman indicates she wants it. If I were a therapist (and I have worked in psychiatric nursing and as a marriage and family counseling intern,) I’d never have sex with a client during or after.

      • Did you first discuss with these younger women the power difference issues, and possible subconscious drives that didn’t have to do with sex per se and mating issues and actually can really harm legitimate sex and mating issues?

        I think it is good in any sexual encounter to get as much on the table as possible (before having sex) about any ways either person suspects the sex may be being used in a less-than-wholly conscious fashion.

        • Henry Vandenburgh says:

          That wouldn’t be very romantic. I think we still need to rely on romance and chemistry more than we do. Sex and love are not/should not be all that grim.

  8. So it’s not natural for men to lust after younger women, but it is natural for them to lust after younger men?
    Interesting.

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