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?

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

Who Called In the Creeps?

I apologize profusely to any readers who were subjected to the dozens of nasty and profane comments that were posted to my blog the morning of Dec. 5. I deleted them and easily traced the trashing of my blog to an organized attack led by the fan message board of a shock-jock radio show.

The listeners apparently found the idea of joyful senior sex icky and set out to trash “the old lady sex blog,” as they called it, by posting more than 40 obscene, racist, sexist, ageist, offensive messages.

Wow, this really surprised me, and continues to.

Too many people with too much time on their hands, too much meanness in their hearts, and too little capacity for intimacy, perhaps. I wonder how they treat their grandparents. We might discuss their fears of aging and sexuality, and their need to keep us as the “other” — easy, even enjoyable, to stereotype and demean.

If you’ve tried to post a comment and it hasn’t been accepted, I’m being particularly careful here because they’ve tried to continue the assault with comments that pretend to be sympathetic.

Chris Smith wrote a nice paragraph about me in his column in the Press Democrat Dec. 5, and I had many new visitors that morning. I hope they realize that I was sabotaged, and they don’t stay away because of what they read before I got to it. I’ve changed my settings so that now I’ll moderate all comments before they appear. Sorry it was necessary.

— Joan

12/7 update: I was able to listen to the radio show that set off this assault by reading aloud from this blog for many minutes. I sent this note to the producer, who invited me to appear on the show:

I heard [the hosts] discuss my topic, book, blog, and the personal stories of those who opened their lives to me. I choose to preserve a level of dignity about older people enjoying sex and intimacy that is at odds with the show’s glee at ridiculing them.

Therefore, I decline your invitation.

Autumn of Love: “We are having hot, fabulous sex after 60”

Freelance writer Mark L. Fuerst wrote a terrific article based on an interview with me which has appeared in several newspapers, such as The Missoulian, Florida Today, and others. I thought you’d enjoy reading it:

Autumn of Love

Birds do it, bees to it, even educated older couples can, too. Here’s some straight talk about sex after 60.

By Mark L. Fuerst
CTW Features

Society’s view of aging women as sexless is wrong. “Many of us are having the best sex of our lives. We are having hot, fabulous sex after 60,” says Joan Price, author of “Better Than I Ever Expected: Straight Talk about Sex After Sixty” (Seal Press, 2006).

Some 70 percent of sexually active women over 60 reported being as satisfied or more satisfied with their sexual lives than they were in their 40s, according to a 1998 survey of nearly 1,300 Americans aged 60 or older, conducted by the National Council on Aging, Washington, D.C.

“My experience certainly supports that,” says Price, who also is a dance instructor, fitness professional, speaker and health writer. “In my 40s, I was unnerved by the realization that my sex life was being affected by undeniable signs and feelings of aging. Now I’ve grown past wanting to hold onto to youth in the bedroom, and as a result I feel truly present with my lover and capable of intense satisfaction.”

Changes after menopause make sexual enjoyment challenging, but “we’re using our creativity, our personal power, the joy and intimacy of our relationships, and useful tools of all sorts — from sex toys to a sense of humor — to tackle those challenges,” Price says.

The book is mainly about her intensely up-front-and-personal story of hot sex with her 68-year-old lover, Robert, whom she married earlier this year, along with snippets of interviews with other sexually seasoned women about their experiences.

“Sexual response is in our brains. I’m in love with the man I’ve been looking for my whole life, whom I met when I was 57 and he was 64,” says Price, age 61 when she wrote the book. “We’re as turned on by each other as a couple of teenagers, but with the juicy addition of decades of life experience, self-knowledge, communication skills and a sense of humor. We’re also willing to experiment and stretch our boundaries.”

Kaycee, age 66, says, “Keep an open mind. Remember that there is always something new to try and so many men out there. Sex after 60 could be the best time of your life if you play it right.”

Price adds that “we overcome the physical challenges by being inventive and resourceful. We take advantage of the lessened urgency by slowing things down, taking more time.”

You call that ‘older’?

Unfortunately, society has not become more accepting of older-age sexuality. “One day I watched some television talk shows about the sexiness of older women. They dressed sexy, pole-danced, and taught the audience how to strip. But these so-called ‘older’ women were probably in their 40s! I’d like to see women who admit and look like they’re over 60 on these talk shows, rousing other older women to assert their sexuality. We need to accept that women can and do stay sexy through the decades, and it doesn’t stop when we no longer can hide the wrinkles or saggy skin.”

Claire, age 66, says, “I think my body is great. I have all the wrinkles and brown spots, and that’s fine, that’s who I am. And the body works better than it ever has. The woman I’m with thinks I’m the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen in her life, which makes me feel great. I wish women could just learn to love their bodies like I have done, and refuse to buy the social stuff that’s out there about youth and beauty. We are all beautiful.”

Phoebe, age 64, says, “Generally my life is easier, less driven, so sex is a part of it rather than a driving force. It is easier not being controlled by my hormones and sex drive. Also, I feel very self-confident about my sexuality and attractiveness, pleased that I am attractive to others, even younger men.”

One of Price’s major messages is that boomers are redefining aging and sexuality. “We’re the Love Generation; we practically invented sex,” she says. “We’re not about to shut the gates now!”

The article also includes my tips for keeping sex vibrant and fun as we age, which you can read here.

Many thanks to Mark L. Fuerst and to CTW Features for permission to reprint this article here.

— Joan