I had a telephone interview recently with Robert Goff, an independent scholar who is working on a biography about Alex Comfort (author of The Joy of Sex) and his many contributions including Gerontology. None of this I knew.
In the process of his research, Goff came across a letter I’d written to Alex. So he called to speak with me. I shared that I first met Alex Comfort in the early seventies at Sandstone, a sexually experimental community in Topanga Canyon, California. The place was rather like a sexual country club and thrived in the seventies with many members. (A fuller account is in my sexual memoir).
At one point, Alex came to see me in NYC and once, was quite enough. Other than his success with The Joy of Sex, he was a non-stop talker who nearly bored me half to death. I am just now learning about all these other sides to him. When he was at my apartment, he only wanted to talk about sex and I found his take on it to be rather mundane. I’m sorry I didn’t know more about his past other than he had been a British doctor and author. We didn’t have Google back then which would have helped a lot.
Thanks to Robert Goff, I have only recently learned that Alex Comfort was a very productive man, writing novels and poetry, practicing social medicine, engaging in scientific research, and promoting the cause of anarchism, as he tried to educate his fellow doctors as well as the public at large. His lifetime work put gerontology on a scientific footing as he confronted social attitudes about aging, views on sexuality, and helped to improve the practice of geriatric medicine. I had no idea of any of this when we met. I quote from Goff’s essay: “The Joy of Aging: Alex Comfort and the Popularization of Gerontology” that was published a couple of years ago in Europe as part of a book of essays.
“Comfort's fame - and notoriety - as the author of The Joy of Sex has eclipsed full recognition of his career as pioneer gerontologist, psychiatric geriatrician and crusader against ageism, or what he frequently called "gerontophobia." Following its publication in 1972, The Joy of Sex has continued (the latest revised edition was in 2008) to find readers although its originality and the social impact of its first appearance are difficult to comprehend today.
The book has been credited with playing an important role in the Sexual Revolution that began in the 1960s and continued into the 1970s. The focus of this paper is on the significance of his writings on aging but, as his most popular book turned out to be The Joy of Sex and it is sexuality rather than gerontology with which his name is associated, it is necessary to start by briefly discussing the important role of sex education in his work. By examining a range of his writings on gerontological issues, this paper will demonstrate that Alex Comfort tried to show the world the joy of aging.”
I look forward to reading Robert Goff’s Biography about a man I now hold in high esteem rather than just some old guy wanting to get laid— shame on me. Alex Comfort was a great scholar, a dedicated educator and anarchist. I’m proud to call him my brother in arms. His lifetime work helped to put gerontology on a scientific footing as he confronted social attitudes about aging. I have caught up and passed Alex in the aging process. Given the best of times, growing older is not all that easy, especially in a youth oriented society.
From personal experience, I can say that today, society still understands very little about the aging process. While it’s true that age is just a number, society’s attitude about it matters a lot. Asians more often regard oldsters with more esteem than we do here in the Western world. We often treat old people as yesterday’s trash that didn’t get taken to the dumpster. Once I let my hair go white, I was not only ignored but often shoved or pushed out of the way when someone was rushing to catch a bus or subway train. It got so depressing that at one point, I simply refused to take public transportation anywhere. Also that strange feeling of being invisible is not only creepy but downright rude. Whenever I pass an elder on the street, I remember to make eye contact, smile and nod my head in greeting to acknowledge them as a person.
Now in my eighties, I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed myself more. I’m aware of having honed my sexual wisdom and I cherish my marvelous past. As an artist I’ve always known that experience was always my best teacher. I am in good health because I avoid doctors and I am not on any Big Pharma meds. Food, friends, fun, self-loving orgasms and the creative process are my medicine. Oh yes, I’m also passionately in love with life and www.dodsonandross.com