Aging, Intimacy and Atheopaganism
Intimacy is the gold standard of human relating. It is the authentic, vulnerable sharing of the inner worlds of those connecting with one another, and is a deeply nourishing, though sometimes scary experience. It is a human need; we thrive when we have it, and often suffer when we don’t.
Under the Overculture, intimacy is usually conflated with sex, the idea being that the only times we are intimate and the only people with whom we are intimate are those we connect with in our sexual lives. This is a sad state of affairs, and one we should work to transcend. It is one of the places where our Atheopagan values of inclusiveness, pleasure positivity and kindness intersect and show us that we need to broaden our thinking and understanding.
Sex can be intimate. Skin-on-skin contact certainly feels intimate; it causes the body to release the “love hormone” oxytocin, which can be intensely pleasurable and emotionally opening. Massage, cuddling, dancing, music, singing, and ritual or praying (for the religious) can all lead to release of oxytocin, which is a strong argument for why we do those things.
So can connecting deeply with a friend. Deep friendships are intimate. In them, we share details about our inner lives, our fears, wounds, triumphs, joys, discoveries, struggles, and growth. No sex required, though certainly deep friendships can involve sex if that is what the parties involved choose*. But still: under the Overculture, intimacy generally means sex…and sex, generally speaking, is for the young.
In short, the Overculture’s obsession with youth and conflation of youthfulness with sexiness has the result that we assign the only culturally recognized form of intimacy–sex–to the young and youthful.
But what about the rest of us?
Well, the fact is that many older people suffer from lack of touch and lack of intimacy. We sometimes replace these with touch shared with pets–cuddling and petting a dog or cat can also release oxytocin.
That stereotypical mad old cat lady isn’t so crazy after all–she’s getting her needs met as best she can.
As I write this, I am 61 years old. I confront natural deterioration of my body, as well as ageism in the job market. I am fortunate in that I have many truly close friends, and the warm embrace of the Atheopagan community. I have that kind of intimacy.
But that skin-to-skin thing that brings your whole body alive? Not so much, I regret to say.
And it’s hard. It’s like a full-body thirst, an ache that never quite goes away.
It is a condition I share with millions of older people in my country and elsewhere.
Atheopaganism is about the elevation and happiness of all people, and getting into right, reciprocal relationships with one another and the planet. We need to consider the needs of everyone, including the ageing, as we pursue these goals.
So I’ve taken a step to facilitate some connection around these issues; I created the Atheopagan Elders Facebook affinity group, which is a place where members of our community over 59, or who think of themselves as elders or dealing with elder challenges, can meet to discuss pertinent issues. Maybe we can help one another to figure some things out.
At the very least, we can talk, discuss, and listen.
*There is also sex which is not intimate. There’s nothing wrong with casual sexual encounters so long as they are consensual and safe, but they often don’t lead to the kind of deep sharing that is the meaning of intimacy.