Somehow our three children were out of the house and otherwise engaged, leaving my wife and me a rare moment to ourselves. So I suggested to Karen that we take advantage by heading straight to the bedroom.
She rebuffed me, asking, “How do men get anything done when they’re thinking about sex all the time?”
Perhaps I could have come up with some explanation, but that’s not really what she was after. We had been married for 15 years by then and were raising three daughters.
In addition, Karen was a busy OB-GYN. Our opportunities for having sex were scarce. Karen’s interest was even scarcer.
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Then we learned she had Parkinson’s.
Suddenly we were faced with new challenges that completely outweighed any issue of unequal sexual desire. Our fantasy of the next 35 years had included Karen staying in a job she loved for as long as she wished and then for the two of us to shift to a retirement of travel and newfound hobbies.
That image was replaced by one depicting her early exit from the job she loved and a retirement filled with financial concerns, frequent doctor visits and uncertain health.
For now she would be living her same life, with the minor addition of keeping a secret (so as not to alarm anyone or harm her career), and taking some pills each day. Those pills would change our life more than the Parkinson’s.
Some of the most common Parkinson’s medications have a potential side effect of compulsive behavior. This can destroy lives when, for example, formerly staid members of the community end up gambling away their life savings or shopping their way to financial ruin.
Thankfully, my wife suffered neither of those side effects. What she did experience, however, was hyper-sexuality.
It started slowly. I would set the mood for a romantic evening and gird myself for the familiar rejection only to have her say “yes.” The positive reinforcement led me to try again a few days later, and again I was rewarded.
Soon she was the one suggesting we race to the bedroom when an opportunity arose. More than suggesting, she began to demand it, urgently and often and in places I never dared.
Her former parameters for sex also became more generous. Now she merely had to have a job, the children had to be alive, the house had to be standing, the temperature had to be between 0 and 104 degrees and the Democrats had to control at least one branch of government. The combination of those things happening all at once occurred with great frequency.
Meanwhile, Karen’s Parkinson’s progressed to the point where she had to increase her medication. I wondered whether this might also increase her obsession with sex.
That’s when I started to fade. Whether it was the excessive demand, an aging libido or psychological stress, I was no longer able to consistently please her. In two years we had switched roles.
Karen decided that the consequences of going public and perhaps losing her job couldn’t be worse than living in this bubble we had created.
So she began to tell people, and when she did, everyone was sympathetic and supportive, which allowed Karen to focus her obsessive behavior into something worthwhile: fundraising and advocating for Parkinson’s research.
Her newly found voice allowed us to start a foundation, Shaking With Laughter (we joke that she’s “Shaking” and I’m “Laughter”), that has raised nearly $700,000 for Parkinson’s research in four years.
Three years after Karen’s coming out, she retired from her medical practice and we now work together on the foundation, being partners in a way we never were before.
After 25 years of marriage, our sex life has slowly reverted to a dynamic more common to couples that have been married for decades, not weeks.
The Parkinson’s, relentless as it is, has progressed. Karen’s interest in sex has not only been redirected, but tempered considerably by the advancing physical complications of the disease.
Last year we became empty nesters. This is the time I envisioned long ago when she and I would travel and rekindle our sex life. My libido isn’t as strong as it was before the diagnosis, but it is back to being stronger than Karen’s.
I’m OK with that. I’m thankful for our interlude of youthful lust. We were each given the opportunity to be on opposite ends of the desire spectrum and have an appreciation and understanding of this common sexual divide.
And in the end, my married friends were right: There may be a limit to passion, but love flourishes.
Marc Jaffe is writing a book based on this story.