Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Best Sex Advice From the Last Century - Glamour December 2009

Former GLAMOUR sex columnist Shirley Zussman, 95(!), shares what’s better and worse for women now, and how to have a blissed-out sex life.

Women Are More Body Confident
"How to have an orgasm was the top question during my Glamour days," says Zussman, who’s still a practicing sex therapist. "But today women know how to make themselves feel good.." There’s only one problem: "Somehow they still aren’t always comfortable conveying that to their partner." Zussman suggests using action instead of words. "Words can sound like criticism," she admits. "Instead, put his hand on yours while you do what you like - he’ll pick things up."

All Those Gadgets!

"The most frequent problem I see in my practice today is lack of desire," says Zussman. "A lot of that has to do with the never-ending workday we have with phones and computers. They are very seductive." Bedrooms used to be just for sleeping and sex, and that’s how it should be, she says. "Don’t let your bedroom become an office."

The Importance of Your Sexual Health
"We learned early on that many sex problems aren’t just in your head; there is a real underlying cause, such as side effects from medication decreasing your libido," says Zussman. "That’s still true." So it’s important to make regular visits to your GP and ob-gyn. "Being diligent now is key to having a healthy body - and great sex - for the future," she says.

-Mikki Halpin

Once Upon a Mattress

A few weeks ago, I purchased a new mattress for my bed. I had recently bought one for the bed in my guest room and I decided I deserved equal treatment.

Mattresses come in all sizes, variations in quality, differences in firmness, and a nice variation in price. The salesman who was helping me make a decision emphasized the importance of durability in choosing a mattress. He was proud that his store’s policy was to guarantee that the mattress would be in good condition after five years or your money would be refunded, or you would get a replacement.

At 95 years of age, I would have preferred a guarantee of my survival to use the mattress - I didn’t even consider the idea of being replaced.

My age, however, didn’t seem to get in the way of my selecting a high quality mattress, at an exorbitant price. Evidently I still cling to the belief that the best is the cheapest in the long run. I think, too, that age has heightened my sense of entitlement - that I deserve the best.

Although I looked forward to the delivery of the mattress, so that I could enjoy its comfort, I feared that my sleep would be disturbed by concern about the hole in my budget that this purchase had made. But no, I had no such concern.

As I drifted off to sleep, my thoughts focused on the virginal twin sized bed I had slept in growing up in my parents home.

I smiled as I recalled the squeaky iron bed I had recently slept in at my college reunion - had I really slept on a bed like that for four years in my turbulent youth?

The king sized bed I had shared with my husband loomed large in my dreamlike state. It took up most of the space, deservedly, so we both thought, in the bedroom of our first apartment. After his death, I bought a queen sized bed. The king had died, but not my expectation that there would be someone else to share my bed.

When I made this recent purchase I chose a full size mattress - no return to the virginal twin size bed of my youth, but evidently the expectation of sharing my bed was no longer there.

Interestingly, after a few weeks I am glad I bought a new mattress - the cost is forgotten, I’m enjoying its comfort, but I feel a sense of regret that I did not buy a queen sized one. Even without a partner I evidently still want to feel like a queen!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


When I was a teenager, oh, so long ago, I began to have fantasies of a prince who would enter my life and soon we would go off and live together forever after! Soon the place where we would live became the major focus of the fantasy. It was never a cottage in the woods; it was never a mansion in a fashionable suburb. No, it was always similar to places in which I had lived with my family—a brownstone facing a park—a spacious city apartment.

The difference was that in the fantasy I could make all the decisions as to how our living quarters would be decorated—the colors, the furniture, the art—how it would be arranged in the space my prince and I occupied.

It wasn’t that I found my parents’ d├ęcor distasteful, but I wanted to make the decisions; and in the fantasy, I could.

Now that I look back, older and wiser, what troubled me—and fed my fantasy, was that my mother often consulted my sister before making any decorating decisions—my sister had "the eye," the talent for design and composition; and indeed, in her adult life she became an interior decorator. To this day, in her 90s, she is frequently consulted about anything that involves "the eye."

Years passed. The prince and I found each other and we did go off together to set up our first home—to feather our nest. I must confess that I turned to my sister that first time for some guidance. After that I took the plunge and made my own decisions and took pleasure in the process.

Over the years, to make changes in our home, to create a new ambiance, to be au courant, it was exciting to leaf through magazines, to shop, to talk with friends; and, yes, my sister and later my daughter. It was not a major preoccupation in my life; it didn’t call upon my best skills, but feathering the next did give me a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. It was as if I were doing something that came naturally.

Recently, I’ve become aware that I no longer derive pleasure from feathering the nest. If I’m attracted to a set of dishes in a display or see a beautiful piece of furniture, the inner pressure to acquire it is no longer there. I no longer ask my daughter what color carpeting to get for my den. I like my furnishings, and there is no excitement attached to making changes, as there was in the past. Is there an internal pressure to feather nests at certain periods of time as there is for birds to feather their nests at a fixed time in their pregnancy?

There is a feeling of loss attached to no longer feeling that inner urge, just as there are many other feelings of loss as we age—the loss of our youthful vitality, our reproductive function, the loss of loved ones. We cope with these losses in various ways.

Are there gains along with the losses? To some degree, yes—in the case of feathering the nest, some relief from the instinctual pressure, from the competitive factor that is part of the nesting process in our culture, and maybe among the birds, too. There is also the freedom to fill the gap, with other interests and pursuits—to say nothing of the money that is saved to use for other urges and purposes—perhaps to help the next generation to feather their nests.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Four women from the Smith College class of 1934 attended their 75th reunion at the end of May 2009. They came to the campus by car, plane, and train. As the youngest of the quartet, I was looking forward to celebrating my 95th birthday in a few weeks--the oldest was 97.

A picture from our senior yearbook was hung on the doors of the dormitory rooms that was assigned to the four survivors. It was hard to believe that we had ever been that young. The four of us agreed we no longer resembled the pictures of our earlier days, but we also agreed that we looked damn good. No wheelchairs, no walkers in our group, no sign of dementia yet!

I remember that one of the four had been a flamboyant redhead. She still had faint traces of red in the bangs on her forehead.

We hadn't been friends at college, but we left Northampton at the end of the reunion feeling a good deal of warmth and admiration towards each other. And there was a lot to admire -- all four had led active and fulfilling lives and they were still "out there" with full days. There was little talk of the early years at college, but it seemed to me we reverted to that time when we used the common, large dormitory bathroom. We walked around, undressed, wrapped in a towel, waiting our turn to shower. We lingered in that ambiance, yes, giggling, as if we didn't want to return to our rooms, as in the past, to study.

We didn't talk much about the past or tell our story. We seemed suspended in time, enjoying the moment, feeling a connection that was fragile and fulfilling.

At least for the moment, nobody could recall who was the President of the United States when we were students. Of course, it was Herbert Hoover followed by Franklin Roosevelt. What the world had in common then, with today, were hard times. The Great Depression that started in the Wall Street Collapse of 1929 was far more severe than our recession is today, as yet.

The depression had a direct effect on our college population. Almost half of the students had to leave because of financial problems. I had my first stirring of being a feminist when I learned that the male colleges were not effected in the same way.

All weekend, beautiful young women, current students at the college, served as "ambassadors" to smooth our way. They were very eager to hear about our college days and the lives we had led. I was curious to know about their college lives and the dreams of the lives they will lead. Some things are impossible so I will never know about their 75th reunion. Perhaps that will be much less astounding to a number of them than it was to the four of us who returned to our college on a beautiful spring weekend.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


A few weeks ago my microwave oven failed to function, and I had to face the fact that I needed a replacement. Shopping in the kitchen department of an electric supermarket, I found a microwave that met my requirements. Looking around the store, I realized that my stove was of ancient origin too, and it seemed practical to buy one while I was in this kitchen heaven.

A few days later, the new equipment arrived. For a brief moment, I had a fantasy that I was the mistress of one of the glamorous kitchens so often displayed in the media. That fantasy soon faded, but I did enjoy the shiny black additions to my kitchen.

Since cooking is not one of my passions and I rarely make succulent roasts in the oven nor do I any longer bake cookies for my grandchildren, over the years I have stored pots and pans in the lower part of the oven. As I continued to gaze in awe at my new appliances, I suddenly realized that I had failed to remove the pots and pans from my old oven before it was carted away!

Although pots and pans are not inexpensive, it was not the replacement cost that upset me. It was the sudden awareness that I was attached to those old friends. They had played an endearing role in life over the years. One of them went back to my time as a bride. One old pot had seen me through both success and failure as a cook -- held many a Thanksgiving turkey and just recently had presented a delicious apricot chicken at my home.

And that old frying pan (more fashionably called a saute pan today) had produced wonderful French toast to many overnight guests before they started to worry about calories. When I told my son about the lost pots, he wistfully asked if the pot that had cooked his favorite childhood food was gone -- it wasn't. Many of my pots and pans still remain. They weren't all stored in the oven. But those that are gone seem to have joined with all the other old friends that have disappeared from my life -- but leave poignant memories of times past.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


My father was a raconteur par excellance. He was able to make an extraordinary story out of an ordinary event. He loved telling his stories, loved the laughter that followed a laughter he shared, his whole body shaking in delight.

One of the stories that came to my mind recently, as thoughts of my father emerged across the holiday table, was of a visit he made to the home of one of his first patients.

He was a newly minted doctor, who had just opened an office on the lower east side of Manhattan. That area was very different then than the hip neighborhood it is today. Most of the people who lived there then were recent European immigrants, barely able to speak English. They lived in small tenement houses, with many occupants sharing limited space. Insurance and Medicare were words they had never heard.

Shortly after he opened his office, he was called to one of these tenement houses. The situation was described as an emergency--the head of the household was dying. A home visit was the order of the day.

There were no telephones, no cell phone, no pagers. My father stood in front of the tenement and a member of the household leaned out of the window to direct him to a fourth floor apartment.

While he was climbing the stairs, he heard crying and moaning. When he arrived at the proper door, a weeping woman told him "Mien mann is gestorbin"--he's dead! My father was led into the room where he saw a body on the bed, covered in newspaper. He extended his sympathy and was about to turn back, when the family beseeched him to stay while they ran around the streets, conveying the sad news to relatives and friends.

He agreed and sat down in a chair near a window, filling out some papers. After a few minutes, his eye fell on the bed nearby and he was startled to notice that the newspaper covering the body was stirring. He concluded it was because of a breeze from the window. But there was no breeze--it was a hot, humid day.

After a few minutes, he saw more movement of the newspaper. He rushed over to the bed, tore off the paper and found that the man was indeed alive. What he did in those moments is not very clear in my memory; but when the family returned, he announced that their beloved relative was indeed alive and breathing, as they could all see for themselves.

The family was besides itself with joy. They embraced my father and ran into the street, proclaiming that the new, young doctor had brought a dead man to life! He was a miracle worker, a savior.

From that day on, the new young doctor became an overnight success. His bell rang all day and, yes, all night. His practice was so busy; he had to hire an assistant and his career was off to a blazing start.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


There was a letter in my mailbox today from the Alumnae Office of my Alma Mater, Smith College. It announced that this spring would be the 75th Anniversary of the graduation of my Class of 1934. The Alumnae Association was inviting all members of the class (who were still surviving, I thought) to a three-day reunion on the college campus. All expenses would be covered by the college.

There was one condition: all who attend the reunion were required to be accompanied by another person--spouse (if they were lucky enough to have one in their 90s), a family member, a friend, or an aide. All that person's expenses would be covered too--meals, lodging, entertainment, etc. If a wheelchair, a walker, or a cane was required, that would not be on the house!

My mind wandered to 1930, when I entered Smith College. That summer I had celebrated my 16th birthday. The great depression was about to have its impact on the world and its inhabitants, as well as college students.

I had never lived away from home, except for summers at sleep away camp. Very few of my friends were going away to college -- it was not usual for middle class Jewish girls to leave the protection of their family. I felt like a trail blazer, but I also felt scared. Everything would be so new -- Could I manage life on my own? Would I get homesick and want to go home? Would anyone want to be my friend?

I had gone to all all girls high school and Smith College was a girls' college. No reference to girls as women, then. There were no male students, but on weekends there were male visitors on the campus. On other weekends, the campus was deserted as many students left to visit the many male colleges in the area.

Sex was certainly on the minds of some of my housemates. It was time before the sexual revolution--the time before the birth control pill appeared on the scene, but the diaphragm was not unknown to many of these girls. Its use or misuse did not keep them from worrying about being pregnant. I don't think I ever heard the word abortion.

Although smoking had been common among my high school friends, drinking was not a high school practice then, at least to my knowledge. Some of my friends were not unfamiliar with alcohol. Although it was the era of Prohibition, that did not offer an obstacle. Alcohol was easily available at "speakeasies" in the neighboring towns. I rarely made an appearance there.

The bridge to my acceptance by these girls, a 16-year old Jewish girl from New York, was our mutual interest in learning. Despite their joy in the freedom of their new lives, the opportunity to have fun away from parental eyes, they had a real investment in getting a good education. They accepted the fact that they would probably get married and have children as soon as they found a suitable partner, but they did enjoy the intellectual stimulation provided by the caring and stimulating faculty. Unfortunately, the depression reduced our class to half its size before graduation, but many graduates did eventually pursue careers in their later years.

As I look back on those four years so long ago, I realize that one of the major contributions to my life was that I found my career choice. I majored in psychology, not very popular at that time, but it was during my years at Smith that I began my "love affair" with that field.

All in all, those years so long ago is when I grew up. And now the college is telling me I need someone to keep an eye on me during my 75th reunion!!


Today, there are many widowed , divorced, or separated people who yearn to find an intimate partner again. Or perhaps there is a partner, but a physical intimacy no longer exists.

Because our society constantly emphasizes that sex and love are only for the young and beautiful, many older people withdraw from seeking a new partner or engaging in any form of sexual activity with the partner sharing their bed. They are afraid to risk rejection, experience performance anxiety and are reluctant to expose themselves as less attractive and desirable than they were in their younger years.

If they do meet someone or if they yearn to resume an intimate relationship with a long-term partner, the fear of how they will perform haunts them. Sex in the media today is portrayed as a "how to" activity that even affects younger man and women.

The famous sex researchers, Masters and Johnson, described that long periods of sexual abstinence can develop into a form of atrophy not unlike what an athlete experiences when he gives up his sport over a long period of time. He needs to go slowly to regain his former confidence. A certain amount of awkwardness is to be expected just like it might be on a new job, meeting new people, or learning all over again a long-forgotten skill. Alcohol doesn't help. Shakespeare knew that "It provokes the desire--but dulls the performance.

"Women often worry that intercourse may be uncomfortable because vaginal tissues can be dry and brittle from disuse. It is a good idea to visit a gynecologist. If this could be a problem, it can be easily corrected. Don't wait until an encounter occurs; be prepared! Masturbation helps to keep the tissues moist, too.

Focusing on the pleasure, not the goal, is a good way to start over. Enjoy touching, kissing, and tasting the warmth of a partner's body next to yours. Explore!

What's the hurry? It is not as if you're teenagers and your parents will be home from the movies any minute. And your kids have left home long ago.
Posted by Shirley Zussman at 7:21 A

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


We never outgrow our need for touching. The very first experience we have with another human being is being touched. We learn about love and pleasure by being stroked, caressed, held, and rocked. Baby animals die if the mother does not lick and stroke them. Even human babies sometimes do not survive if they are deprived of tender loving care. Toddlers, taking their first steps quickly, run back to their mother’s sheltering arms to be picked up and caressed. The imprint of these first experiences with physical intimacy or the lack of it never leaves us.
You lovers spend countless hours touching and holding each other. All the love songs of every generation say hold me, take me in your arms, let me hold your hand.

Most other relationships require that we keep our distance - hands off- don’t touch, for most of us the only opportunity we have to touch and be touched is with our lover - our husband or wife. Children and old people need touching too. Yet how much we sometimes neglect touching or being touched.

Often touching is restricted to a few moments of lovemaking in bed instead of being an important part of our lives. In the course of my work, I often hear patients express how much they want and need to be caressed, stroked, and held. Men often fear to express their need for touching because they fear it will be interpreted as passivity.
Both men and women, young and old, should keep in touch... You never outgrow your need for touching!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


"The bedroom isn't just for sleeping anymore." That's part of a popular commercial that shows furniture that can convert the bedroom to an office, a computer center, an entertainment area (Stereo, TV, VCR, DVD, etc.) In lieu of making love, many modern couples use the bedroom to make more money, by extending their working hours. Papers, disks, files fill the bedroom space while one or both partners spend long hours in front of their computer.

Instead of entertaining each other by holding, stroking, lying quietly together or sharing intimate thoughts and feelings one or both are immersed in a soap opera of the latest sexual exploits of the rich and famous.

Often, the bedroom or even the bed is shared by a beloved pet, either canine or feline, who may be getting most of the petting and hugging. Sex therapists sometimes discover that a pet sleeps between a couple, serving as a barrier between them as an unspoken way of avoiding each other. Small children sometimes serve the same purpose.

What about your bedroom -- does it have a computer, a TV set, a motley assortment of papers and books? Have you settled the issue of king size, queen size, double or separate bed?

Is sex another work activity that takes place in the bedroom?

Separate bedrooms are a luxury of modern life. In the 15th and 16th Century, people lived in general purpose rooms as they still do in some societies (and in studio apartment?) They ate, slept, entertained and worked in the same room. Beds were often collapsible and were set up as needed. Many centuries were required to develop the concept of the bedroom as a private sanctuary. Enjoy it as such -- don't make your bedroom the public, general purpose room of the 15th Century.

Separate bedrooms are a luxury of modern life.


Yes, you can!

On a recent trip to Florida, I visited a posh country club, all of whose members appeared to be senior citizens. Many of them have partners, short or long term.

An interesting contrast to the sea of gray hair and stooped shoulders was the club's staff, young and vibrant men and women from around the world. They seemed to have formed a friendly, caring bond with the people they serve.

Many of the club's members are retired people, seeking not only relief from winter's chill but a milieu to make new friends and enjoy activities, both old and new to them.

The dining room had a festive air and an extravagant display of fine food and wine. Of course, there was no way to know how many of these guests needed special diets, preventing them from partaking of the tempting food offered. As they came into the dining room or left it later on, they stopped to greet friends at the tables scattered around the room like hosts at a private party.

Adjacent to the dining room was a lounge. Not everyone settled there after dinner, but I soon identified those who did, as having dancing feet. Couple after couple walked over to one end of the room, where there was a platform. There was music, a three-piece ensemble, a talented, exuberant singer, all of whom seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the dancers. For me, it was like watching high-quality entertainment. Indeed, these people could dance! They moved to the beat of the music with an expertise that made me speculate that they had taken expensive lessons to become so expert, just as they took lessons to improve their golf game or their bridge skills.

I felt pleasure watching my 90-year-old brother twirling his spirited partner around the dance floor, executing intricate steps with ease and grace. I felt a pang of envy that I did not have a partner to swing to the beat. It was not a wish that I were young again; but a wish that at 94, I could be sharing the pleasure of this experience, rather than being a spectator.

Of course, these privileged people are not free of the fears and anxieties we all have, are heir to. They, too, mourn the loss of their youth and vigor, the death of loved ones, the aches and pains of aging, the woes of the world - but for some shining moments in time, it's "Lets Face the Music and Dance!"

Friday, January 2, 2009


Anticipating a holiday stirs the imagination and offers welcome relief from our everyday worries. Thinking about the Thanksgiving turkey, that special stuffing, the velvety smoothness of the pumpkin pie, makes our mouths water even before the actual meal is placed before us. Hearing the ringing bells, delighting in the twinkling lights, smelling the spicy tang of the Christmas trees lining the streets, evokes the feelings of pleasures to come...

But often, the reality of the celebration doesn’t live up to the anticipation. There’s fatigue, frustration and disappointment along with the joviality. Anticipation stirs up a fantasy of satisfaction that is often not realized in childhood or in later years.

The idea of going home for the holidays fills our thoughts weeks before the trip is to start. When we get home there is often the realization that everything has changed or nothing as changed. Amid the pleasure of reunion, there is the memory of past hurts, rivalry, the dreams that haven’t been realized. There is often a feeling of depression about time that can’t be relived, the aging clock that can’t be stopped.

When there’s no family, few friends, no plans, the loneliness can be more painful than at any other time. And then there’s the impact of the world around us. It’s Christmas 2008. ‘Tis the season to be jolly. We’re trying to feel the holiday surge, but have you heard much laughter, seen a lot of smiling faces? Most likely you’ve heard tales of woe, disbelief about this corrupt and frightening world.

And all that talk about money, money, money. There’s an old saying that when the Dow goes down the erections go down. Personal relations reflect the tensions and the fears. And then, undercutting our attempts to enjoy the holiday, whatever the circumstances, there is that moment of truth we recall, when we learned there really is not Santa Claus. But then again, there’s always the hope that next year he will appear.