Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pole Dancing: Exploitative or Empowering?

I was quoted in today's New York Times commenting on the trend that is bringing pole dancing (complete with instructors and portable, ceiling-high poles) into the homes of middle aged, middle class women, as well as into fitness studios. Here's an excerpt from the article by Tina Kelley:

Some say exercise that echoes the acrobatics done by women who take their clothes off for a living is exploitative rather than empowering. But Ms. Shteir and Joan Price, the author of “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty” (Seal Press, 2006), see a clear difference between middle-class, middle-aged women choosing to give parties in their homes and women pushed by poverty into potentially dangerous or demeaning work.

“If we were to limit what we do in the realm of affirming our sexuality because it has been used against us in the past,” said Ms. Price, who tried pole dancing in 2005, “we would then be buying into the idea that we don’t own it.”

The important point in the NYT article is that pole dancing, once solely the domain of strippers, has been reclaimed by women in all walks of life and of all ages. Why not? It's a sensual activity that lets us see our bodies as sexy and alluring. We wrap around that pole as if it's a lover. Pole dancing is also full of fun, healthy sexuality, fantasy, and good exercise --just try hanging onto that pole with your arms, your legs wrapped around the pole, your body suspended, and see if it's a fitness challenge!

Besides pole dancing, women are flocking to fitness clubs for strip aerobics (we even saw this on Oprah), burlesque dance, and many other activities that "nice women" -- especially of our age! -- supposedly didn't do.

Physical exercise itself is sexy, and we're bringing the notion up a notch or two by indulging in a fitness activity that is decidedly and openly sexual.

I had the pleasure of experiencing a pole dancing class taught by Virginia Simpson-Magruder in 2005 as part of my research for an article for Marin County's Pacific Sun about innovative exercise classes. Here's what I said about it then:

"Push out your chest more," Virginia Simpson-Magruder tells me in the Pole Dance class at Stage Dor Studio (10 Liberty Ship Way, Suite #340, Sausalito). Let's see: butt out, chest out, look over shoulder, hip out, wrap leg around pole, swing--I never realized that pole dancing would require such strength and coordination. This sensual workout is much more than slithering around a pole--it strengthens the upper body (sometimes your arms are holding your whole body weight on the pole) and feels delightfully sensuous. Instructors Virginia Simpson-Magruder and Lane Driscoll got their training from a former exotic dancer. Yes, we used a real pole. (No, we didn't strip.)

What do you think? Have you tried pole dancing, strip aerobics, or burlesque dance? What was your experience?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Sex and Older Bodies

I invite you to read my second column for Suddenly Senior: Sex and Older Bodies: Tips, Tools, and Tricks that Work! Here's an excerpt:

I‘m often asked in media interviews for tips for great senior sex. Here's what has worked for me:

1. Communicate. Tell your partner what you're feeling, or not feeling, and describe what would make sex better or more comfortable for you. Your partner wants to understand and please you.

2. Take lots and lots of time. We need more time to become aroused and make the delicious journey to the crashing waves. Set aside a couple of hours so you have time for the full experience, from the first kiss to the afterglow cuddle.

3. Find positions and props that enhance your comfort. A special shaped pillow like the Wedge and a silky lubricant can make all the difference in comfort!

4. Explore erotic helpers. I wrote a whole chapter on sex toys in Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex after Sixty, including divulging my favorite.*

* I didn't go into more detail about my favorite in my Suddenly Senior column, but I'll tell you here -- it's the Eroscillator. Click on the photo below to visit the Eroscillator website. You'll have to read my book to learn just how this magical machine enhances our love life -- though if you ask, I'm likely to reveal more here!
Advanced Response

I also talk in this column about how sexual expression can be an affirmation and celebration of life when dealing with a severe, even catastrophic, illness:

Many of you are familiar with the love story I tell in Better Than I Ever Expected about my romance with Robert.
Since the book was written, two major events in our lives happened: Robert and I got married, and Robert had six months of chemotherapy to treat his leukemia and lymphoma (happily now in remission).
Each chemotherapy treatment left Robert sick, depressed, and exhausted. Then, as he started to come back, he wanted to make love."I sought to be whole, not damaged by cancer and chemo, celebrating the source of life," he told me. "I needed to feel alive and well, not just a 'survivor.' I wanted to express myself completely through this body that felt violated."

I'd love to hear from other people who have had similar -- or different -- experiences.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Gloria Steinem: Doing Sixty & Seventy

I was excited to see that Gloria Steinem has written a new book about aging, titled Doing Sixty & Seventy, and eagerly ordered it. When I saw the book -- just 68 pages long and printed in a font about three times normal size, I felt cheated. It's not a "book" -- it's a series of two essays published in hard cover. Once I got past that realization and read the essays, I was glad that I had.

Steinem, one of the most influencial feminist/activists of our time, was the founder of Ms. magazine. She became an inadvertent spokesperson for aging issues after a reporter said to her on her fortieth birthday, "You don't look forty."

Her widely quoted reply: "This is what forty looks like. We've been lying for so long, who would know?"

Steinem is now seventy-plus, and still radical. In fact, she claims that women get more radical as they age. This book includes her essay, "Doing Sixty," plus "Into the Seventies," a preface (which is actually an additional essay) looking back twelve years after writing "Doing Sixty."

Some tidbits from these thought-provoking essays:

"I used to joke that I thought I was immortal and this caused me to plan poorly."

"It was only after I'd become an old lady myself that I lost the habit of imposing my sentimental interpretation on old people."

"For women especially - and for men too, if they've been limited by stereotpyes -- we've traveled past the point when society cares very much about what we do... Though this neglect and invisibility may shock and grieve us greatly at first... it also creates a new freedom to be ourselves -- without explanation."

"I used to think that continuing my past sex life was the height of radicalism. After all, women too old for childbearing were supposed to be too old for sex. Becoming a pioneer dirty old lady seemed a worthwhile goal -- which it was, for a while. But continuing the past even out of defiance is very different from progressing. Now I think: Why not take advantage of the hormonal changes that age provides to clear our minds, sharpen our senses, and free whole areas of our brains? Even as I celebrate past pleasures, I wonder: Did I sometimes confuse sex with aerobics?

I'd love to hear from you about any of these or related topics. Please chime in!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

North Bay Bohemian: Birds, Bees, and Oldsters Do It

Thanks to Cole Porter, we know that birds do it, bees do it, even overeducated fleas do it. Well, apparently oldsters do it, too.

Happy Valentine's Day! I was delighted to be profiled in the North Bay Bohemian's 2007 Sex Issue in a lively article by Brett Ascarelli titled "Certain Age." Here are some excerpts:

Last fall, ABC Nightline sent a crew to Sebastopol to interview author Joan Price about seniors, sex and dating. Price, a former high school teacher turned fitness author and guru, fell in love a few years ago, drawing media attention when she claimed that she was having the best sex of her life. In 2006, she released Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk About Sex After Sixty (Seal Press; $15.95), already in its second printing. The book features interviews with "sexually seasoned women," experts' advice about keeping the nethers in shape and Price's own musings on the challenges of being a sexy senior. The book's popularity spawned a related blog, in which Price moderates discussions about sex for the mature set.

One recent afternoon at her Sebastopol house, the 4'11" Price is wearing a rhinestone-covered blouse and Mary Janes. No wonder she's getting some; at 63, she's super-fit, thanks to a frequent work-out regimen and what must still be damn good metabolism, given the chocolate cookies she's munching.

... Price is a poster-adult for the cause and now fields sex-related questions from mature adults at workshops across the country.

"I call myself an advocate for ageless sexuality," Price laughs, "but maybe I'm trying to do more than that: I'm trying to change society one mind at a time, I guess."

Ascarelli, a young woman, took to heart my comments about the need for society to change its ageist attitude toward sex. She quoted me saying, "I think it will be easier [for women in the future], especially if younger people pay attention to what we're going through now and don't see us as the Other, but just as themselves in a few decades."

photo by Brett Ascarelli

Monday, February 12, 2007

Changes after Prostate Surgery: Tina Tessina

Many of you have been reading and asking about prostate cancer, how it affects sexuality, how spouses/lovers can communicate and keep their love strong while living with it. Some of the most widely read posts on this blog have been those dealing with prostate cancer, such as "A man asks about sex after prostate cancer" and "Grace Period: a novel about living with prostate cancer."

In response to your interest, I've asked Tina Tessina, Ph.D. to comment on this subject. Besides being a psychotherapist and author, Tina writes from experience: her husband is living with prostate cancer. Here are her comments:

The changes that come after prostate surgery are, like all changes, not easy. We don't like to have to deal with changes, especially those that confront us with our mortality. But, I can happily report, with some encouragement and enthusiasm from me, my wonderful husband is quite functional sexually. His surgery was in 2002, he just got another 'undetectable' PSA test, so we are blessed.

For us, the blessing is in how heightened our love and appreciation (which was pretty good before) has been by the threat of terminal illness. Richard is lucky -- they got it early, it has not spread, the surgery went well. His second surgery to have an artificial sphincter put on his urethra, also went well.

Others, I know, have a more difficult time. But, as Gerald Haslam wrote in Grace Period, "Live for the moment, since that may be all you have." Richard and I decided to do that in 2002, and we've been making the most of our moments ever since. Every day is a gift, another cup of sweetness, and we drain it to the last drop. One of our joke lines is "I'd like another one of them there drinks," from Scrooge, referring to the Cup of Human Kindness given to him by the Ghost of Christmas Present.

For some couples, the tension of serious illness creates crabbiness and bickering. Richard and I have never wanted to waste time arguing, and we haven't for a long time. I don't believe it helps anything that's going on. In my newest book, Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Squabbling About the Three Things That Can Destroy Your Marriage out from Adams Media spring 2007, I help couples who are fighting learn new methods of getting along so they can enjoy their time together.

For more, see Tina Tessina's Dr. Romance Blog. Dr. Tessina is a psychotherapist, author of several books including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction, How To Be a Couple and Still Be Free, and The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again. She writes the "Dating Dr." column on and "Dr. Romance" on Yahoo! Personals.

Talking to Your Adult Children about Marriage

A writer friend sent along this request for interviews for an article she's writing:

With more and more adults delaying marriage, I would love to hear from parents about how they talk to adult children about marriage, commitment, and settling down. In the wake of changing social and cultural expectations, how has this dialogue changed since your parents talked to you? And if you're divorced yourself, how do you communicate with children about marriage, etc.? Are you worried about them never settling down? Or, are you relieved that they have more choices than ever?

If you've had these conversations and you're willing to be interviewed, email me and I'll pass along your contact information.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Grace Period: a novel about living with prostate cancer

Grace Period is a novel about living with prostate cancer by Gerald Haslam. Although fiction, the author does indeed have prostate cancer. Though the details of his protagonist's life don't match his own, Haslam gives solid medical information about treatments for the disease, and what it's like to go through daily life living with this cancer.

Grace Period's progagonist falls in love with a breast cancer survivor, and many of the highlights of this engrossing novel deal with the relationship between Marty and Miranda. Although the book's plot does not revolve around sex, Haslam treats his characters' sexual relationship with directness and sensitivity. Marty uses a pump because he cannot get "natural" erections, and his doctor encourages him to explore alternatives: "Guys tend to overestimate hard-ons. You've got a tongue, toes, fingers, and ingenuity."

Marty learns that he can have "dry orgasms": "It hadn't felt quite as good as the old fuild ejaculation -- or at least I didn't think it had -- but it sure felt better than anything else I could think of."

"Once you're in the cancer world, everything's iffy," Miranda tells Marty. "Live for the moment, since that may be all you have."

That sounds like good advice whether we're living "in the cancer world" or not. It's up to us to make the most of the cards life deals us. Near the end of the book, Marty grins and tells Miranda, "I'm standing here wearing a damp diaper; I haven't had a natural erection in years; my body is drooping and my face is sagging; I'm driving the wrong way on one-way streets. And I'm a happy guy."

Many thanks to Gerald Haslam for a novel full of truths, centered around a relationship that touched me deeply.

Update: I just heard from Gerald Haslam, who wants to contribute this to our discussion:


Thanks for your kind words about "Grace Period."

Like Marty in the novel, I think that making love as long as one can and as well as one can represents life refusing give in to death or infirmity.

There is no proper age for it, there is only the desire, the need, the ability (along with, one hopes, a little creativity). Although my own life is rather different than his, my cancer isn't and neither is my attitude or my good fortune at enjoying the comfort of a loving relationship. I'm delighted to learn that you do, too.

All the best, Gerry

Friday, February 02, 2007

Why so hard to talk about sex?

Why is it so hard for couples to talk about sex? Does it get any easier with age?

A year ago, I would have said that yes, with the experience, self-knowledge, and communications skills that come with age, it does get easier to talk about all intimate matters, including sex. That's certainly true for me.

And yet, in the past year since my book came out, I've heard from dozens of readers or workshop attendees who tell me about the difficulties they have communicating their sexual needs, desires, and worries to their partners, either long-term or new.

What do you think? What reasons hold us back from communicating fully about sex to a partner? I'll start the list, and I invite you to join in with your ideas.

1. We're afraid of being judged.

2. We're afraid that our partner will think that he or she is being judged.

3. Our upbringing rears its ugly head: we shouldn't be feeling/ saying/ doing this.

4. We're embarrassed about the changes in our sexual response due to aging and/or our medical challenges.

5. We're afraid our partner will misunderstand or say no to our request.

6. We worry, "What if my partner does what I'm asking, and it still doesn't work?"

7. We don't know what to ask for, we just know something could be better.

Please comment on any of these that resonate with you, and feel free to add your own ideas. You can click on "comments" below, or email me with your comments.

Thanks for helping me figure this out!