March 13, 2012
Michael Downs is the award-winning author of House of Good Hope and the newly-released and highly-acclaimed The Greatest Show. His short stories have been widely published and have been listed in Best American Short Stories many times. Michael also writes a blog with his wife, the journalist Sheri Venema, who is 17 years older than he. The blog is called, aptly, HimPlus17. I asked Michael if instead of doing the usual writer-on-tour-book-interview we could do the Six Question Sex Interview. Thankfully, he and Sheri agreed!
How is sex with someone who isn’t in your generation different than sex with someone in your age range?
S: Before we go any further, we want you to know we’re in bed together answering these questions. We’re not going to tell you what we’re wearing.
M: I’m wearing black. Sheri’s wearing what Lauren Bacall would be wearing if I were Humphrey Bogart. But you asked a question. It’s been so long since I’ve had sex with someone my own age, I’m not sure I even remember what that was like. I remember terror. Sex in your twenties with someone the same age is nerve-wracking, right? Sex with 40-something Sheri wasn’t like that. Nothing about it felt like a tryout or something to get right. I felt chosen.
S: But of course he’s NOT Humphrey Bogart, who wasn’t my age either, but who seems rather ageless, no? This question is difficult to get my head around. The men I last had sex with who were my own age were then younger than Michael is now. Men of my own age at that time (early 40-ish) were often emotionally bruised, wary, cynical, and baggage-laden. Emotionally and sexually, they didn’t expect much and gave even less. Michael was a world apart from that. He was young enough to be hopeful and to be tender. As he’s aged, that hasn’t changed.
Within your sex life, is there anything, Sheri, that you just wouldn’t do because you thought you were “too old” for that?
Oh geez, no. What does that mean, anyway? Good sex just makes you feel young. Once, after climbing to the top of 10,000-foot mountain in Idaho, we felt so exhilarated that we tore off our clothes and turned the boulders into a boudoir. If I’m not too old to hike up a mountain, why should I think I’m “too old” for anything?
Who is your older/younger celebrity or fictional character sexual fantasy?
M: I’ve had a thing for Helen Mirren since she played Rosalind in a 1978 BBC production of As You Like It. Barbara Stanwyck was sexier than Linda Evans in The Big Valley.
S: And don’t forget how Barbara Stanwyck came on to a half-naked Richard Chamberlain in The Thorn Birds.
M: If Flannery O’Connor were still alive, I’d rush right down to Georgia and beg her to write me love letters pointing out my spiritual failures. As for fictional oldsters, William Kennedy’s Molly is 64 in Very Old Bones when she seduces her nephew Orson and then tells him, “We must find a way not to be naughty.” That’s so hot. My wife is 64, you know.
S: I lusted after Pernell Roberts as oldest brother Adam Cartright on Bonanza when other girls my age were swooning over Little Joe. Adam captured my ambivalent view of the world: he was a good guy who wore a lot of black. Sexy!
Younger men? Stringer Bell from The Wire. Yes. OMG. Absolutely.
Michael, when you’re out, or at parties, etc., do you find yourself automatically checking out women in Sheri’s age range? Sheri do you find yourself automatically checking out men in Michael’s age range?
M: In my 20s, before Sheri and I married, we were living together in a cabin on the Delaware River. Our neighbors included a fellow in his 70s who blended cocktails he called “small sustainers,” and who canoed and chopped wood and read Hemingway. He lived alone, but now and then his ex-wife came for overnights, and he’d spiffy up and put on cologne. He appreciated women. One afternoon, on his porch, over small sustainers, we watched another neighbor—in her thirties, in a bikini—stroll down to the river’s edge for sunbathing. My friend sipped and smiled and nothing in his smile was lecherous or covetous or winky. He smiled to see beauty. That was a lesson. So, yes, at parties I notice older women. Younger, too. And my contemporaries. Women of every age present something beautiful to the world. As would my friend, I admire, and I’m glad.
S: I wouldn’t say I automatically check out guys that are Michael’s age. I like a man of any age who looks good. I might look at the way their pants fit, or how their hands move when they talk, or whether the smile is genuine.
Do you think that you each have gotten sexier as you’ve aged? Is there an age where you’d like to freeze time, for example, Sheri, would you like Michael to stay 46 forever?
S: The first thing I noticed about Michael was that he wore a silver Hopi bracelet. I thought that was sexy: It looked good on his wrist, but it also told me there was something different about him that might be worth exploring. I had usually been attracted to dangerous men, so when I discovered he was a nice guy, I worried that he might be like some of the overly nice, 1970s-era sensitive guys I had dated. Then I played volleyball with him, and watched him spike the ball, stuff it over the net, play hard. So he had both qualities: a nice guy who didn’t deny his testosterone. I found that sexy, too. As most men do, he’s grown more comfortable with his body and himself. That’s very sexy. Plus, he still wears the bracelet. I would not freeze him at this age. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.
M: This is one of those questions that appears in AARP The Magazine or More, and that we’re supposed to answer with a “yes” so that aging readers believe they can still be sexy. I suppose they can, but age does change us. If Sheri and I didn’t still find each other sexy, we wouldn’t be answering these questions. But sexier? How about sexy-different? Less bounce, more ease. Less ogle, more glance. Less grab, more graze.
How much do either of you project into the future and the future of your sex life? For example, have you both wondered about the day when Sheri is 85 and Michael is 67 and what your sex life might be like then? The Sixty-seven year old men I’ve met are still pretty horny and trying to get things going on. My experience of 85 year old women is that they aren’t thinking about it too much. Although I could be completely wrong here.
S. I have a good role model. My widowed mother remarried at 82 to a man who was 86. Before they even married, when they were still “courting,” my sister and I drove them once along a Florida highway en route to the Everglades. I was driving, and in the rearview mirror I could see their bodies and their gray heads leaning into each other in the middle of the back seat. They were holding hands. They were murmuring. I heard my mother say the word softly, but it jumped out from the rest of her sentence: “orgasm.” So yes, my mother was thinking about sex in her 80s.
M: I’m counting on genetics.