Dorothy Freed‘s Perfect Strangers: A Memoir of the Swinging Seventies is both one woman’s personal story and the story of an era: the mid-1970s in San Francisco. Freed divorces a husband who cheated on her with her best friend and called her a “frigid bitch” because she didn’t have vaginal orgasms. She goes on to explore her sexuality with whomever she chooses during 4 years of self-described “wanton promiscuity.” She has plenty of sex with plenty of men, yes. But orgasms? Not so easy.
Whether you had a wild side in the 1970s, or you still do, or you didn’t, but wonder what that was like, Freed’s memoir is honest and insightful. She navigates not only hook-ups, but her sense of self as she searches to define her sexuality in her own way — not what her era taught or her ex-husband demanded.
Now 73, Freed looks back at this time of her life with candor and the perspective of a woman who gained much life wisdom and self-knowledge (and many orgasms) since that time. I asked Dorothy a few questions:
JP: What made you want to put this memoir into the world at this point, 40 years later?
|Dorothy Freed then|
DF: 1974 to 1978 was a seminal period in my life. For the first time, I was in charge of myself and my two sons. I loaded us in the station wagon, sat in the driver’s seat, and drove us across country to start over.
Later, when I examined how much I’d learned about myself in that four year span of time, I realized my story was a memoir of the swinging ’70s, with historical significance, and one that needed to be shared with a larger audience.
JP: What message do you want people of our age, particularly, to get from your memoir?
DF: My message is to look back on the ’70s as an era of unprecedented personal freedom, a time before AIDS colored our sexual world-view in dark hues.
By the end of the memoir, my erotic behavior changed, but not because of fear of disease. I changed it because I saw no future in it. What was missing from my life was love and affection from a male partner. To achieve that, I needed to back away from my casual sex lifestyle, and focus on earning my living by making and selling my artwork — and being open to the possibility of meeting a suitable man.
|Dorothy Freed now|
JP: Any advice to people of our age about exploring their sexuality, whether or not they did it the way you did?
DF: If there’s still a spark alive inside you, reach out to embrace the adventure.
JP: Do you have any regrets?
DF: No, I don’t. Events unfolded as they should.
The path I chose was right for me.
Tell Me What You Want:The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life by Justin Lehmiller, Ph.D. is the book we’ve all needed, even if we didn’t know it. We all have sexual fantasies, but we don’t usually share them with others, even our own partners. Many of us agonize about what our fantasies say about us, or we struggle (unsuccessfully) to repress them.
What Is a Sexual Fantasy?
A sexual fantasy is any mental picture that comes to mind while you’re awake that ultimately turns you on … Simply put, a fantasy is a conscious thought that makes you feel all hot and bothered, and maybe gets some blood flowing to your genitals, too.
In this barrier-smashing book, sex researcher Lehmiller surveyed more than 4,000 Americans, ages 18 to 87, who answered 350 detailed questions about themselves, their sex lives, and their sex fantasies. The result is a solidly researched book that answers questions you probably have, such as these:
- How common is my sex fantasy?
- Does my fantasy mean that I’m a bad person?
- What sorts of people have fantasies like mine?
- Should I tell my partner about my fantasy?
- What should I consider before acting out my fantasy?
- What do other people fantasize about?
- What are the most common fantasies?
My biggest problem reviewing Tell Me What You Want is that it’s so good that I don’t know how to narrow down what I tell you about it. Look at all these Post-Its! Instead of summarizing or interpreting Lehmiller’s points, here are some of them in his own words:
- Multipartner Sex: The results of my investigation reveal that the single most popular sexual fantasy among Americans today is — drum roll, please — group sex … perhaps the most normal thing there is to fantasize about because almost everyone has been turned on by the thought of it.
- Men and women are not polar opposites when it comes to their sexual psychology … most of the things that men fantasize about, women fantasize about as well.
- Our sexual fantasies appear to be carefully designed to meet our psychological needs — and because those needs change and evolve over our life span, it seems that our sexual fantasies naturally adjust in order to accommodate them.
- There’s a world of difference when it comes to what turns someone on at [different] life stages … older adults — especially those in long-term, monogamous relationships — are more likely to crave something fresh and new … like an orgy or an open relationship.
- According to my survey data, if there’s one specific person who’s likely to appear in your sexual fantasies, it’s your current romantic partner.
- When we feel ashamed or guilty about what turns us on, it can potentially lead to sexual performance difficulties … the more negative emotions [survey participants] reported — things like guilt, shame, embarrassment, fear, anxiety, and disgust — the more sexual problems they had.
- When the novelty of a new relationship has worn off, adding new and exciting elements to your sex life by acting on your fantasies can potentially prevent passion from subsiding and allow it to keep burning.
There’s more, so much more. Whether you’re interested in the world of sex research, or you just want to understand your own sex fantasies better, or you’re looking for tips for communicating better with your partner, I know you’ll enjoy and learn from Tell Me What You Want:The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life, as I did.
I wonder if there are two types of seniors: those who love their sex-toy shops, and those who haven’t discovered yet how wonderful these stores are.
If you’re in the second camp because you imagine (or remember from your youth) a dark, seedy, sticky-floored space with leering salespeople, customers wrapped in raincoats, and gaping orifices on the shelves, you’re in for a delightful surprise.
In Vibrator Nation: How Feminist Sex-Toy Stores Changed the Business of Pleasure, Lynn Comella, Ph.D. has accomplished a rarity: a peppy, sex-positive history book chronicling the emergence and evolution of feminist sex-toy shops. Written by a researcher, it’s far from dry — well lubricated, rather, by lively interviews with sex-toy shop owners and workers. We learn how the business of pleasure toys evolved to include sex education, inclusivity, and a feminist mission, not just sales.
This is a book about feminist invention, intervention, and contradiction, a world where sex-positive retailers double as social activists, commodities are framed as tools of liberation, and consumers are willing to pay for the promise of better living through orgasms.
Eavesdrop on the conversations and struggles about what a feminist sex-toy store should stand for, what the politics should be, whether or not to sell porn, and if so, how to choose it, how to be education-based and still sell products.
|Smitten Kitten, Minneapolis|
Learn Jennifer Pritchett’s “sweaty sex toy” story. In 2003, the owner of Minneapolis’s first feminist sex shop, Smitten Kitten, opened a shipment of toys that degraded and leached greasy, noxious chemicals. This led Pritchett to spearhead the anti-toxic-sex-toy movement. “That’s when Smitten Kitten’s mission changed from being just another sex-positive, educationally focused feminist sex shop to becoming a business committed to environmental justice and personal health”
Lynn Comella is an associate professor of gender and sexuality studies, a researcher and expert on the adult entertainment industry, a writer on sex and culture. She immersed herself in sex-toy retail culture while researching Vibrator Nation, including selling sex toys at Babeland to get the inside experience. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing her speak several times, and she’s smart and sassy, a delight. This attitude and liveliness is as strong in her writing as in her public speaking.
You’ll not only learn about sex-toy stores, you’ll also get some cool sex-education quotes. For example:
“A sex-positive person appreciates that human sexuality is endlessly diverse — there is no right way to have sex and no singular definition of normal.” – Lynn Comella
“In those days, when we were discussing vaginal and clitoral orgasms, we used to say that the only people who reliably have vaginal orgasms are men.” – Joani Blank, founder of Good Vibrations.
“When women talk about sex, it changes the culture.” – Carol Queen
“Doing what ‘comes naturally’ for us is to be sexually inhibited. Sex is like any other skill — it has to be learned and practiced. When a woman masturbates, she learns to like her own genitals, to enjoy sex and orgasm, and furthermore, to become proficient and independent about it.” – Betty Dodson
“The worst sexual problem we have — our worst sexual dysfunction… [is] our inability to talk about sex.” – Joani Blank
I love today’s feminist sex-toy shops. They curate their products carefully for our health and pleasure. They provide sex education to their customers. They believe that sexual pleasure is everyone’s right, whatever the age, gender, sexual identity, orientation, kink, needs, desires, abilities, relationship structure, and whatever else should be in this list.
Some of these stores hire me to speak, proving that they agree with my assertion that sex has no expiration date. They advertise on this blog, voting with their wallets to support my educational mission. Please support them in return! You’ll find them in the right-hand column of this blog, and yes, you can purchase from them online.
Opening Up by Tristan Taormino
I’m a heterosexual man in my early 70s who’s spent my entire adult life in two monogamous marriages. My wife died recently, and suddenly I found myself a widower embarked on a voyage of self-discovery while adrift in a tumultuous sea of relationships. I don’t wish to remarry, but I definitely do want sexual intimacy and joyful connections with women. How to find these?
I’ve discovered Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships. Her book provides a wealth of helpful background on the full range of non-monogamous relationships, and is at once both informative and inspiring.
Taormino covers all genders in all combinations with many examples. She discusses the myths surrounding monogamy (myths I understand only too well), the pros and cons of open relationships, and the range of such connections from partnered non-monogamy to swinging, to polyamory, and polyfidelity. All of these styles of non-monogamy share the basic premise that “one partner cannot meet all their needs and they may want to have sex or a relationship with someone other than their current partner.” Instead of hiding it, they “bring this fact out into the open.”
Taormino emphasizes that open relationships only work when these significant elements are present: self-awareness and self-discovery, mutual consent, good communication skills, clear boundaries, honesty, trust, fidelity, and commitment. She addresses issues of possessiveness, control, and jealousy—widely associated with monogamy—emphasizing the importance of relinquishing and overcoming these for non-monogamous relationships to succeed.
She devotes an entire chapter to the idea of compersion as the flip side of jealousy: “compersion is taking joy in your partner’s pleasure or happiness with another partner.” Taormino notes, “Jealousy is a learned behavior. The first step to achieving compersion is to work on unlearning jealousy—letting go of feelings of insecurity, possessiveness, and fear.” While compersion may not be crucial to a functional open relationship, she argues that it is “bound to enhance your relationship.”
I have sufficient self-insight in my 70s to recognize that non-monogamy offers me a path forward toward sexual closeness, non-possessive happiness, and mutual commitment without the encumbrances of marriage and exclusivity. My challenge is to find others who share this perspective and who possess the requisite maturity, self-awareness, communication skills, and commitment to honesty to make a consensual non-monogamous relationship work. Like me, I think that others of you will find Taormino’s Opening Up of great help in charting a course as we venture forth on this journey.
Note from Joan: Shamus MacDuff is the pseudonym of a retired university professor and author. Other than his name, he promises that everything he says about himself is true. His earlier guest post, “Great Sex Without Penetration: A Man’s View,” attracted so many readers and such positive response that when he offered to review some books relevant to sex-positive seniors, I quickly agreed. He now also reviews sex toys for penises. Find his posts here.