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