When my not-so young Ojai friends come down to L.A. for dinner, I always try to have a sort of piece de resistance for them to make the hour-and-a-half trip worthwhile.
One time I invited a couple just back from China. Another time I showed the video of a terrific French film. The last time I invited Helen Colton, a touch therapist.
Helen is very outspoken about her field, sex therapy. So I was a little anxious but thought my guests would enjoy her.
She came with her companion, retired screenwriter Bobby Lees. Dinner went well. Bobby, who wrote the Abbott and Costello comedies of the '30s and '40s, told wonderful old Hollywood stories.
After dinner I took Helen aside to ask her advice. I showed her a letter I'd received from a reader, which began "Dear Norma" but seemed intended for Dr. Ruth. It read:
"I am 65 and my husband is 70. We've been married 10 years, second marriages for both of us. Up to six months ago when we moved to a retirement community, sex was exciting and regular. My husband plays tennis, even singles, so I know he's in good physical shape, but he seems to have lost interest. What should I do?" It was signed "Trouble in Paradise."
I also showed Helen my reply:
"If sex was so great for 9 1/2 years and it diminished in quantity and quality just when you moved, it must have had something to do with the move. Either your husband has met someone else, maybe a tennis player, or something about the new setting is not conducive to lovemaking.
"Try coming to L.A., see a show, spend the night in a hotel with breakfast. Perhaps changing surroundings and breaking out of a tight closed-in togetherness might help."
Then she stopped and clapped her hands until the talking died away and she had everyone's attention. "I think you should hear what I'm advising Norma to say in her column. It can only do you good. We're all from a very inhibited generation." (Helen is seventysomething herself.) "The young may have had a sexual revolution, but we haven't.
"Masters and Johnson, the pioneer sex researchers, started a two-week course for couples. The partners are told to begin by touching each other's body--lovingly, slowly, tenderly, gently, playfully--everywhere but in the genital and breast areas. The partners take turns, one being the toucher, the other the touched. They discover that they get sensual stimulation and feel exquisite pleasure without having to have intercourse. What's more, they keep getting aroused over and over. . . ."
She paused for a moment.
"When the pressure's off--that is, when the impotent male sees he doesn't have to perform--he finds he's getting erections more often and keeping them.
"The non-orgastic female," Helen continued, "learns her body can respond with intense desire when her face, lips, eyes, ears, abdomen, knees, and shoulders are stroked and her most sensitive areas are deliberately left untouched. Eventually, those sensitive areas cry out for contact. At the end of a two-week period . . . "
"Two weeks?" somebody gasped. "You keep that up that long?"
" . . . when they've learned to touch each other," Helen went on calmly, "couples are given permission to have intercourse--and generally they're able to have a satisfying sex act."
"That was very interesting," I said, hoping to put an end to it.
"Yes, I've got more," Helen said. "For example, the morning is frequently better than the evening--testosterone levels are higher, and older people are fresher. Or I could point out that if nude in bed gets boring, clothed on the sofa may be diverting. In other words, time and place and conditions can be changed. But the important thing to remember is, as Ashley Montagu, the great anthropologist once said, 'Half the world's frenetic sex may be a search for the gratification of the need for touch.' "
I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw Helen had finished. But the guests left soon afterwards.
"They left so early," I complained to Bobby as he and Helen turned to go. "Maybe it's just because some have a long trip ahead. But it does look as if my dinner party was a big bomb."
"On the contrary," said Bobby dryly. "They couldn't wait to get home to try out some of Helen's advice."