Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Like Fine Wine

[I don't want to come off as smug in this post, so I’ll start by saying there are a lot better people in the world than me, both older and younger. I’m not making any claims of perfection here, but rather, I’m talking about improvement.]

So...I’m very fortunate to have genes from my dad’s side that have always caused me to look young. It used to make me really angry that I could get into drive-in movies for being under 12 when I was actually 16; now I am of course thrilled that I look ten years younger than I am. 50 will do that to you.

A few years back I was really struggling with the whole middle-age thing. Rather than be thankful for looking 35, I wished I were 30. I really got pretty obsessive about it. There was some upside to that, in that I kept up exercising, watching my diet, and taking good care of my skin. But at the same time, that attitude really hurt my self-esteem. Because no matter what I did, I wasn’t going to make myself 30, nor stop the process that daily took me further from that age.

You may think part of my problem was that I write about sex for living, and in our culture, females aren’t usually considered to be sexy past the age of 40. Actually, my “I’m not young and sexy” phase preceded my taking up writing erotic romance fiction. In point of fact, my success with my writing was a large part of the cure.

I was doing something I enjoyed and had a talent for. I began to see myself in a new light. And in the years that have transpired, I’ve noticed more and more that there are things I give to the world that mean more than mere physical attractiveness ever could. You know what? That kinda makes a person feel sexy.

Last week my dear mom passed away after a long illness. For the memorial service my daughters and I prepared a little booklet that contained a written tribute and photos from Mom’s life. In reflecting upon what my mother gave to those around her over the years, I was reminded again of some of the lessons I’ve learned personally in the past three years. There is so much value to a woman’s being that is only enhanced by age.

When I compare myself now to the Diana at 30, I am amazed at the change. I’m so much stronger, so much wiser, so much more content, so much more capable. I would never in a million years trade all that for smoother skin. And I hope to continue to grow as a person so that someday when I pass to the next life, my family can be proud and grateful for who I was.

So, sex remains my specialty, but you see now why I look at it in so much deeper and broader terms than the physical. Physical beauty is a wonderful thing to be enjoyed and celebrated, but spiritual, mental, emotional beauty matter even more. And while physical beauty fades over time, these other sorts of beauty grow richer every day, every year. I’m sure as the years pass, rather than leaving the erotic behind as I age, I will understand it better and better.

And will certainly continue to blab about all I learn to you!

Friday, February 23, 2007

Egotism is Not Sexy

I usually don’t hop on the “American Idol” viewers’ bandwagon until later in the season, but this week I checked out the show and saw most of the female Top 12 perform. I haven’t seen the men yet, but I hope they have their egos more in check than their female counterparts.

Several of the contestants, when critiqued by Simon, Randy and Paula, obviously bristled under the criticism. A couple of them expressed a sort of “this is me, don’t tell me to change” attitude. They seemed to think it more important to have rock-steady self-assurance than to be able to apply the advice of wiser, more experienced people.

Obviously it takes great self-confidence to be an American Idol contestant, but to my mind that’s no excuse. Especially when two of the best performers, Melinda and LaKisha, both exhibited great humility and even a bit of shyness when talking to the judges and Ryan. They proved it’s possible to be humble and self-effacing and still turn in a barn-burning performance.

Interestingly, Melinda and LaKisha are also not the most physically attractive of the bunch. This suggests to me (1) they had more talent to offer and didn’t need to be drop-dead gorgeous, and (2) some of the others may have made the cut partly due to looks. Simon made more than one disparaging comment about how contestants were attempting to ride on good looks alone. It was refreshing to hear commentary that emphasized the value of talent over physical appearance, especially applied to women.

And frankly, LaKisha and Melinda’s attitude and demeanor made them more attractive. There were a couple of girls that I found very cute until they opened their mouths to disparage the judges. Their physical appeal suddenly paled in the light of their arrogance. These women need to realize, egotism is not sexy.

One performance I found particularly telling. Alaina performed The Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket.” As soon as the song started up, I wondered, why would anyone choose a song like this, that gives so little opportunity to demonstrate your vocal skills? It’s more about rhythm than melody. But in the post-performance exchange, I began to suspect the reason: Alaina was attracted to the “I’m special” theme of the song, and wanted to exhibit the exuberant cockiness it expresses.

That, in microcosm, was the problem demonstrated by some of the women that night. Great performances are not achieved by attitude, but by talent. It seemed too many of them were more proud of their attitudes than their singing abilities. When you feel that way, the problem is that you are putting your own opinion above that of others: you’re saying, “I don’t care what you think of me, I think I’m fabulous!” And if you don’t care if you please other people, you are going to fail as a performer—unless the only audience you want is yourself.

Here’s an idea: Attractiveness—and sexiness, if you will—comes from thinking about and caring about others. You can take pride in your abilities, but you should also recognize that it is the value your abilities bring to others that give them worth. The joy of listening to Melinda’s and LaKisha’s performances was a true gift these women gave to their audience. And to my mind, that makes them both very beautiful and truly sexy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why Women Don't Feel Sexy

Sorry to have another sort of negative post so soon, but I have a feeling there are quite a few women out there who will relate to my point today.

A sure-fire way to get a man to not even try competing in a certain field is to demonstrate to him he doesn’t stand a chance. For example, what guy who knows he can’t run for more than two minutes is going to sign up for the Chicago Marathon? What guy who knows he’s all thumbs is going to try to build a curio cabinet from scratch? What guy who isn’t very good at math would aspire to a career as a CPA?

Unfortunately, there is a lesson similar to this built into much of our culture, a lesson which women must deal with on a daily basis. The lesson we learn from TV, movies, magazines, and of course advertising everywhere, is that to be attractive to men sexually you must be gorgeous, thin, appealingly dressed, and able to flirt. Now this message is only true to a degree, I’ll admit, but the problem is, men being the way they are (primarily aroused by the visual), there is a certain degree of biological truth operating here.

One would like to think that over time, and with the influences of women’s liberation and such like, this situation would be improving. I’m not sure how much it has. Over the past week I’ve seen a couple films from the past two years, and one from the 50s, and it’s remarkable how some things never change.

In 2006’s “The Last Kiss,” a romantic drama starring Zack Braff, a young man is tempted away from a committed relationship by a sexy co-ed. Throughout the film we are exposed to very few female characters: the co-ed, who uses her body to acquire affection; a young mother who is driving her husband away by her constant whining about the baby; and Zack’s girlfriend, who we are told is “a wonderful woman” but doesn’t demonstrate any particular interests, abilities, or character traits. The men in the film are all interested basically in finding and sleeping with women they find sexy (secondary characters who are all, of course, gorgeous).

In 2005’s “Lord of War,” Nicolas Cage plays an arms dealer with a trophy wife. In this film, apart from the protagonist’s mother, all the women are there for sex and beauty as well. Nicolas’s wife serves no purpose but to fulfill his fantasy of a gorgeous mate, and she herself admits it at one point. The other females in the film are prostitutes (and much too pretty to be prostitutes, if you ask me).

Meanwhile, I watched 1956’s “Forbidden Planet,” the classic Disney-produced sci fi adventure with Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis. To a viewer of today, the blatant sexual-objectification of Anne Francis’s character is jarring. The sex-starved team of astronauts leer at her, and innuendo flies as only could happen in the 50’s and early 60’s.

But as uncomfortable as it is to watch a film like “Forbidden Planet” today, it’s really just another era’s treatment of the same phenomenon that thrives in 2007. We see again and again, men interested in women simply for sex, and therefore only interested in those women that are beautiful, thin, and sexily-clad.

How discouraging.

I remember a few months back reading a support group bulletin board where women who had found porn on their husbands’ computers had posted about their feelings. A couple of ladies talked about looking at these photos and concluding “I just can’t compete with that.” Indeed, any non-self-deluded woman in today’s culture is going to draw that conclusion on an almost daily basis.

So, with so much telling us that we can’t compete in the arena of sex, it can get hard sometimes to be motivated to try, like the guy who can’t run for two minutes contemplating doing a marathon. It certainly does nothing to inspire the libido! And it’s a shame, too, because for the most part, our “role models” as sexy women are sheer fantasies, rare in number, air-brushed, and unhealthy. We couldn’t be like them even if we should, which we shouldn’t.

But in the meantime, we have no genuine role models when it comes to healthy sexiness. While men can achieve sexiness by emulating the courageous, interesting, successful, smart, funny, not-necessarily-good-looking guys portrayed in popular media, what are women supposed to do?

I think the best thing we can do is try to ignore the whole mess and simply be ourselves. Genuine female sexiness comes from the heart and soul, not from the cosmetic counter, the Victoria’s Secret catalog, or the bottle of diet pills. I can think of one example from pop culture that I think exemplifies this, and that’s Tina Fey’s character Liz Lemon on “30 Rock.” Liz isn’t trying to do anything but be herself and run a comedy show, and she manages to be quite sexy anyway, thank you very much.

My dear husband assures me that however moronic men act sometimes about attractive women, they aren’t all as shallow as that. He says the average guy doesn’t really possess such impossible standards, and can be turned on by love and respect as well as by beauty. That’s good news.

Now if we could only get the media to send that message occasionally, it would be a lot easier for us ordinary women to get sexy.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Soulful Sex: The Fantasy Collection Released!

I just wanted to let readers of Erotica with Soul know, my new book Soulful Sex: The Fantasy Collection was just published and is available in pdf, lit and Mobipocket ebook formats. The book contains three spicy novellas with fantasy themes; visit my website here for all the details including an excerpt. You can purchase the ebook direct from Living Beyond Reality Press for $3.39 (thats 15% off the $3.99 cover price). Next month LBR Press will be publishing the paperback version of my three anthologies combined: Soulful Sex: The Paranormal, Science Fiction and Fantasy Collections.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

When Sex Comes Last

“To everything there is a season,” it says in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, and in every life there are periods when a lot goes wrong and the human spirit goes into survival mode. By necessity, those aspects of life that aren’t key to simply getting through the day, may get short shrift. People under stress neglect certain things, and one of those, classically, is sex.

It certainly seems that this winter has been a rough one for many people I know. One of my dear friends was struck by the triple threat of ill health, a car accident, and harassment from extended family. Another close friend had has much terrible turmoil in her family due to disease and loss of life. Meanwhile, I myself have been in a long struggle these past months with the failing health of both my parents.

Even the news around here seems to mirror these troubles: from the bizarre stories of the astronaut love triangle to the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Meanwhile, Wisconsin has been plunged into a vicious cold snap, and we are happy if the temps get up into two digits.

To top it all off, it’s almost tax time!

These are the times when a person simply tries to cope, and sex takes a back seat. Not a good thing if you are an erotic romance author…not even so good if you’re not! But that’s the way life goes, and it’s no use beating yourself up over it when you have other fish to fry.

I suspect, however, that even in times like these, the libido is not hibernating, but merely contributing its energy to more urgent causes. I believe that the same spirit that compels us to mate, to procreate, and to pursue sexual pleasure, also inspires us to fight to sustain the life and happiness of ourselves and others. For humans possess more than the drive to stay alive. We also want quality of life, we want to pursue joy and to help others do likewise.

While at times like these we take things “one day at a time,” just trying to get from one crisis to the next in one piece, deep down inside there still dwells that spirit that clings to the hope of far more. It’s not your common conception of “sex drive,” but in my opinion it springs from the same source.

During the past couple of weeks, which have been particularly challenging for me, I have been rereading Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. It has been a long time since I read this marvelous novel, a lifelong favorite of mine. I find it the perfect accompaniment to the events happening lately: a truly gothic novel that, while dark, sometimes sinister, sometimes tragic, still has at its center the passionate love of two vibrant characters who are in the determined pursuit of happiness. Jane Eyre is far from an erotic romance, as far as my life seems from that at the moment. But at the same time, the heart of the novel beats with yearning, passion, and sexual love surpassed by few fictional works.

Just so, I know that heart still beats inside of me, and when better days come, will revive itself again. If it happened for Jane and Mr. Rochester, it will most certainly happen for me and for you.