Bodies remember. High-quality, committed sex is lovemaking that explores not just one another's bodies at particular times, but one another's embodied selves as they reach from remembered times and to anticipated times. Casual sex is tissue-thin when compared with committed sex.

My sons and their wives visited us recently. One son flipped through our wedding album. commenting that my wedding dress had come back into style but poking fun at the tuxes. Nostalgic, I think back to the night I missed his wedding rehearsal but -- no kidding -- gained an important sexual insight.

My in-laws, two fragile people in their eighties, had undertaken an arduous plane trip to attend the wedding. Two hours before the rehearsal was to start, my mother-in-law fell and broke her shoulder. I headed off with the group of family members who took her to the emergency room. Once she was receiving medical attention, I rushed over to the restaurant where the rehearsal dinner was held. From then until we got my in-laws to our home at 1 a.m., my husband and I tagged-teamed hospital coverage. We tried our best to host a joyful event for our son and his bride while helping my father-in-law get quality medical care for his wife hundreds of miles from their own doctor. We were very grateful that the next day everyone, including my mother-in-law, was able to enjoy the wedding.

The words that my son and daughter-in-law rehearsed while I was in the ER and pledged to one another in earnest the next day included audacious promises. They chose traditional vows--not the "obey" part for her, but the vow to each other to share their lives "in sickness and in health" until death parts them.

As I watched my father-in-law by his wife's hospital gurney, I saw the effect of decades of living those vows. This eighty-year-old man, himself far from robust, would not leave his wife's side or even eat until he knew her arm was stabilized and she was comfortable. He held her hand, watched her every reaction, winced with her pain. After sixty years of marriage he knew her--body and soul. Many months later, their roles were reversed. During the last weeks of his life, she slept on the sofa near the hospital bed Hospice set up for him in their family room.

What does this story have to do with sex? If my son's marriage endures and includes the best kind of sex, he and his wife will be better able to call upon their intimate knowledge of one another in sharing not just health but sickness. Indeed, the French language reminds us that sex and death are intimately connected. La petite mort, orgasm--the little death. Whether or not one has decades of satisfying, committed sex with the same person isn't fully under anyone's control. Yet it is a worthy aspiration--an aspiration that is becoming all too rare (See "Marriage Rates Fall").

About the Author

Caroline J. Simon, Ph.D.

Caroline J. Simon, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy and the author of Bringing Sex Into Focus.

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