The folk classic “Where Have all Flowers Gone” is often credited to Joan Baez, but it was actually written by Pete Seeger back in 1955. Which makes perfect sense, since Mr. Seeger would have been exactly 36 years old at the time, meaning he would have been inspired to write a song about his shrinking libido (which is clearly what the hit classic is really about).
The song resonates with me because like Pete Seeger back in ’55, I’m now 36, and can attest to Father Time’s ax systematically chopping down on my erections over the last few years. The realization of this diminished sex drive sort of snuck up on me. Like most of aging’s “tricks,” it has been a gradual thing.
You see, nobody suddenly wakes up bald. No one jumps out of bed with a gut, or looks in the mirror one day to find copious back hair plus a complete inability to recognize any artist on the Billboard Top 20.
But eventually, a man picks up on the gradual changes. His new reality. At some point the man lifts the lid, stares into the abyss and awakens to his truth: Hey, where the f*ck have all my boners gone?
I’ve noticed a distinct decline in the last few years, to the point where I finally have to admit that the numbers are going down. A lot. How do I know this so acutely? Because I no longer wake up every day with evidence to the contrary. Yes, I’m talking about morning erections.
There is an actual scientific reason for my AM wane: morning erections are — in large part –a neurological response to REM sleep, the deep sleep we get throughout the night, but particularly in the early morning hours. During these very important REM sessions, the brain sends blood to the penis as a way of maintaining its health and functionality. In other words, we get hard. But as we age, our sleep patterns change and we get less REM sleep, particularly once jobs get more stressful, spouses start sleeping next to us, and babies enter the picture. You know, grown up sh*t. Let’s add to the mix the fact that that our blood flow and overall circulation both weaken as we get older, and you’ve got a recipe for serious and pervasive de-bonerification.
Granted, understanding the chemistry behind our hard-ons is of secondary importance. Where our boners come from is not as important as how we feel about them.
The most interesting thing about morning erections is that their value — for the most part — is face-value. Showmanship. More symbolic than anything else. If most men are honest, 90% of the time the boner won’t be acted on – we’re not going to stay in bed and make love to our gal or beat off to the Huff Po Celebrity Page every morning. We’ve got showers to take, Metrocards to buy, jobs to hide at. Rather, the fact that the erection showed up – that is the great reward. As Woody Allen famously said, “80% of success is showing up” and nobody’s taken that more to heart than a young man’s penis.
And so I miss my old morning mate for what he represented: me as the sexual being. Me, the potent mammal. A reminder that despite being nearly buried beneath life’s responsibilities and fears, I still rise with a throbbing pulse. I’m hard, therefore I am. Sure, it may be a bit caveman and one-tracked, but it’s strangely gratifying. These days — and I suppose in all the days yet to come — the evidence will be a little more watered down. More importantly, my measuring stick of what manhood means may need to evolve. That more than anything scares me – it’s a process that’s gonna require both balls and wisdom.
Amit Wehle is a writer and thoughtsmith, living in Brooklyn. He also tweets @AmitWehle.