Soon after I began teaching lifestory writing, I met with a man I knew only slightly, I’ll call him Sam. Sam wanted my advice on how to write his lifestory. I was several years short of sixty, and this crumpling man in his late eighties. As usual, I suggested he start with a story idea list and asked him what he might want to write about. I sat patiently for what seemed like an hour while he sat silently, slumped in his chair and lost in thought.
Suddenly he seemed suffused with high noon sunshine as his head lifted. A huge smile spread across his pallid, wrinkled face. “I could write about my sex life!” he said, sounding like a child who just spotted the carnival’s cotton candy stand.
I’m embarrassed to admit this – I remember recoiling in shock. I hope that reaction was confined to my mind and didn’t show on the surface. Age difference was definitely a factor. It’s true that I would have been stunned to hear anyone say this, male or female, but I would have pursued the topic with someone my age. Generational differences made it unthinkable to pursue it with Sam. I knew that I would absolutely not, under any circumstances, want to read about my parents’ sex life, and he was older than my father. I assumed his children would feel the same way. I’m sure a psychologist could have a ball with my reaction.
“You could …” I demurred. “It might be a little hard for your children to read ….” I swallowed and took another breath. “Is there anything else you might write about?” He visibly deflated.
The meeting was short. I never saw or heard from Sam again.
I’d answer him differently today. I’d return his radiant smile, maybe wink, and encourage him to write about those lovely memories that obviously gave him great pleasure. He could celebrate the good times and perhaps grieve their decline. I would still alert him to the fact that his children may not want to read those accounts and remind him that he should discuss things with his wife before sharing with anyone else. But I would definitely encourage him to write for himself.
I have no idea how deeply Sam was thinking of delving into those memories or how much detail he might have included. Although I’ve never had a student or writing group member focus a story specifically on sex, some stories do call for at least a mention of the topic. In such cases, observing good taste and privacy while still providing enough detail to retain authenticity can be a challenge. I’ll save that discussion for another time.
For now, suffice it to say that writing about your sex life will bomb if you aren’t comfortable doing so. Freewriting and journaling are the best way to come to grips with your memories and feelings and the heart of your story and message, whatever the topic. Write for yourself first, then make decisions about what, if anything, to share with whom.
Write now: Not everyone has or had a delightful sex life. If you do or did, write about the joy it’s brought you. Tell how it made your life fuller and better. If you don’t or didn’t, write about that. In either case, write privately. In a journal. On scrap paper. On a keyboard. Write freely, bravely. Try lots of points of view. Write about love and lovers. Write about fantasies and spurned pursuits. Write about how and when you learned the facts of life and all you know now. Explore what turns you on and anything else that comes to mind. I guarantee you’ll learn something, and it may be downright pleasurable and fun.
If you wish your writing would spontaneously ignite when you’re done and it doesn’t, head for a fireplace or shredder. If a piece passes the blush test, consider sharing, with trusted friends or your writing group first, then openly.