Read an Excerpt
Books about erotica tend to be earnest, full of theories, statistics, and logically defended opinions, as if soberness made the subject of sex less controversial. So we'd like to say, right up front, we're not into that. We're talking about having a good time. After all, that's why millions of women either watch erotic videos or at least are curious about them. We want to get turned on, find out what everyone else is up to, learn a thing or two, give our partner a new sexual thrill, or maybe have a laugh while we both get turned on.
All of these things are fun. We are talking about sex here, not mortgage rates, corporate downsizing, or saving the rainforest. Life is full of these serious issues, but having a good time in bed shouldn't have to be one of them. (If it is, don't despair. There are many how-to-improve-your-sex-life videos available.)
Until now, a good, woman-friendly erotic video hasn't been all that easy to find. Most of the more than 5,000 adult videos made in the last year alone were intended for a murky group of porn-movie watchers and feature plenty of enhanced T & bare A, no-frills action, and lurid genital close-ups. Movies like these can put you off sex for weeks.
For years before we embarked on this project, we loved to share our discovery of a hot new adult video with our friends along with all the other daily details of our lives. The two of us and our friends aren't the only women who throw an Adults Only video into the VCR now and then. Statistics from diverse sources say women alone or with men make up between 23% to 40% of the two and a half billion dollar erotic video market. Those are impressive numbers, but whether you're a regular inthe adult section or have only wondered about it, you know how difficult it is to find well-told stories, attractive settings, wit, romance, or anything resembling character development.
The New York Times article titled "Science Is Finding Out What Women Really Want" (Aug. 13, 1995) reported on a Dutch study that scientifically measured the responses of both men and women as they viewed two different erotic film clips-- the first, from a popular video at the local rental store, the other from a video made with women in mind (Candida Royalle's). Both clips had the same effect physiologically--men and women showed an aroused physical response. The difference was how they felt about the videos. Men simply reported themselves as feeling "turned on." Women said the first video repulsed and disgusted them. The second one, they reported, fumed them on. They needed to have a positive emotional response before they could have a positive sexual experience.
This study tells us what women everywhere know already: There are certain kinds of movies that turn women on. Our mission for the last year has been to find them.
In researching The Wise Woman's Guide we willingly entertained many erotic tastes and practices, but at a minimum we required consensual sex, women portrayed as people not inflatable sex toys, and a good outcome. After that we sought out stories, mysteries, and even a few musicals, and we looked for videos with a polished style and respect for our fantasies. In the instances where we have included films that are edgier, such as noir, S & M, or rape fantasies, we have recommended only those in which the women are willing participants and clearly in charge, although we have reviewed a handful of others as well. Our objective has been to give you enough information about the plot, point of view, and sexual content to help you make your personal choice aided by our evaluation.
What we tell you is the stuff you won't find on the box or in traditional (mostly by men for men) reviews, and we'll tell it from our point of view for women like us--smart, busy women who work, have families, date (and break up), and feel guilty when we watch Martha Stewart on Sunday mornings instead of going to exercise class. We are fans not scholars, but we know what we--and our friends--like, even when we don't always agree with each other.
On one thing we do agree. Making sure the video you watch is one you might like often means stepping up to the plate and renting the movies yourself. Nobody knows better than us that taking an erotic movie up to the counter has the potential for embarrassment. It's sadly true that men, those animals, have been given implied permission to consume erotica, but the cultural assumption is that women are too fine and sensitive to be interested in these movies. We'd like to say loud and clear that we've come a long way. Thanks to the decade of love when we focused on making love not war and on writers like Lonnie Barbach and Nancy Friday among others, our sexuality has been outed. If all this is not motivation enough, here are eight good reasons why you should march boldly into your video store:
* Your fantasy life will improve. Where do you think Madonna comes up with all the ideas for her hot videos?
* You get motivated to work out. And you'll probably want to buy some sexy new underwear.
* You might find a new slant on an old technique or be energized to try some of what you already know but have been too shy to initiate.
* You can introduce new ideas to your partner in a nonthreatening way and find out what it is he's been dying to try.
* You can jump start your libido when fatigue, medication, or illness has short circuited your sex life. (Antidepressants, high blood pressure pills, and other medications can save your life but ruin your marriage.)
* You'll get a few laughs.
* You won't catch anything but attitude from your television set. It's the ultimate safe sex. And it can be very satisfying.
* You'll give your libido a boost if you're one of millions on drugs for high blood pressure, breast cancer, or one of the many seratonin inhibitors like Prozac and Zoloft.
* At last you'll know for sure you're doing it right.
Angela and Sarah
Alice in Wonderland
An Adult Musical
Starring: Kristine de Bell, Bradford Arndexter, Teri Hall, Juliet Graham, Angel Barrett, Nancy Dare, Bree Anthony, Tony Richards, Allan Novack, John Lawrence, Ron Nelson, and Larry Gelmann. Producer: Bill Osco. Director: Bud Townsend. Music Bucky Searles. Caballero Home Video. 1976. 88 minutes.
Alice in Wonderland, the erotic musical? Is nothing sacred? We're not talking about an occasional song here and dance there either. This is an elaborately costumed and choreographed full-blown extravaganza with original show tunes. Favorite song, "What's a nice girl like you doing on a knight like this."
We meet prim Alice aboveground, where she is defending her virtue from her long-suffering boyfriend when whoops--a sudden trip down the rabbit hole catapults her from 19th-century prudery to 1970s hello-let's-get-naked sexual revolution. Her adventures are nothing like what Lewis Carroll told us they were, though you might remember that his hobby was taking seminude photographs of prepubescent girls. So perhaps they are what that respectable Victorian mathematician imagined but didn't dare record. You'll find all the characters of Alice, plus Humpty Dumpty, looking quite different from the last time you saw them. He, poor fellow, cannot get his ding-a-ring up after suffering his fall. With an interracial cast and devilish dialogue, this ribald version of what goes on down the rabbit hole has a captivating innocence and delightful sense of merriment.
Kristine de Bell, who went on to become a Playboy playmate, had a career in "The Young and the Restless." Our favorite line: "If it feels good, there's a chance that it must be bad." Highly recommended.
Explicit: 7; Sensuous: 6
Starring: John Leslie, Georgina Spelvin, Richard Pacheco, Vanessa Del Rio, Joey Sivera, Kay Parker, Randy West, Mai Lin, Producer: Michele Ames. Director: Anthony Spinelli. Writer: Michael Ellis Music Chet and Jim Moore. B Film Presentation of a Cine-Star Production. 1982. 101 minutes.
Jackie's Dreams, an all-male dance troupe, travels the small podunk towns of America in a beaten-up old Cadillac. They make a meager living stripping in bars and clubs on Ladies Only nights, kept going by Jackie's pep talks and the promise of that major gig he's sure is just around the corner.
Among ourselves we referred to them as "the Looker" Sebastian (Randy West), "the Intellectual" Jonathan (Richard Pacheco), "Mr. Bad the Jock" (Joey Sivera), and "Jackie the Operator" (John Leslie). On stage they perform solo, shaking their boodies and struttin' their stuff to the appreciative ladies in the audience. And of course each finds a woman whose heart he steals.
All four are fully developed characters with stories to tell, and the dialogue (written by Michael Ellis) is smart and witty. Our personal favorite was Jonathan, an idealist who quotes John Dryden and T.S. Eliot and who dreams of auditioning for a Chekhov play. His love scene with Georgina Spelvin is so emotionally and erotically charged, it won her the Best Actress award at the sixth annual Erotic Film Festival.
Will any of the Jackie's Dreams find happiness with the ladies who want to love them, or will they beat it for the freedom of the road? You won't know till the very end. This movie gave Pacheco, West, Leslie, and Silvera a chance to show a side of themselves not often seen in this genre. Highly recommended.
Explicit 7; Sensuous 8
Starring: Carol Cross, Taija Rae, Jake West, Chelsea Blake, Marta Ekberg, Joey Silvera, George Payne, Anthony Carino. Producer and director: Candida Royalle. Femme. 72 minutes. 1984.
Couple's tape of the month--Penthouse
Winner of 4 Critics Awards: Best Picture, Cinematography, Editing and Ladies Choice
Mysterious Christine arrives just after daybreak at picturesque Love's Inn, a rambling New England farmhouse where the spirit is far from Puritan. After showing Christine to her room, the owners snuggle in the quilts before starting their busy day. The daughter and the handyman romp in the barn. The newlywed guests scamper upstairs to celebrate their honeymoon. The melancholy Christine, sensitive to the erotic atmosphere, settles into a Victorian bathtub to make love to herself, though we see that a handsome stranger with really great abs watches her from afar while rubbing himself to climax. Do they know each other? Will they get together? What is Christine's secret?
This amatory slice of life is not burdened with a strong plot or distracting dialogue, so you too may be celebrating Eros before the tape has finished. The warm sense of relationship between the frolicking partners makes this a natural for couple viewing. Candida Royalle, a former XXX rated star, is one of the new breed of filmmakers dedicated to making erotic films for women. She encourages her women stars to choose the men who appear with them--many of whom are couples in real life. Christine is one of her most successful efforts. Most memorable couple: the owners of Love's Inn. Most improbable but heavenly: "swinging" on the swing. Highly recommended.
Explicit 8; Sensuous 9
The number one question we are most often asked by women is "Aren't you embarrassed to rent the videos?" "Indeed," we answer. "The ERA amendment did not pass, but we have the right to pick out a sexy movie in 1997." Even if we didn't want to watch one, we'd rent one right away just to make a statement of entitlement, although, we admit, sometimes we were embarrassed. The funny thing about that is, even in the low down part of town, the male browsers were even more embarrassed. Usually they pretended to be looking at something else until we left. For those who are feeling shy, here are several role-playing ideas based on our experiences.
1. Go in the morning, as soon as the store opens. The adult section gets crowded in the evening.
2. Pretend you are renting several videos to show at a risque wedding shower. Ask the clerk if he/she can make any recommendations. This role playing is useful if you are one of those people who can't help making explanations to strangers.
3. Get dressed up in your job interview suit. A fedora or other hat with a wide brim is a helpful accessory. Look successful. Keep a pleasant, thoughtful expression.
Or dress as you would to go to a parent-teacher conference. Think blazer, little print dress, low-heeled shoes, and a canvas shoulder bag with the name of a museum or the educational television station. Get the look. With this persona you can visit the grungy XXX-rated store next door to the bus station. The owner will be helpful.
5. Carry a notebook. Write in it. If anyone asks, tell them you are writing an article for Ms. magazine. After the first few times, you'll find that nobody pays any attention to you and you can relax and be yourself. By the way, the number one question we were asked by men is "Weren't you turned on all the time." We just smiled.
Kama Sutra: The Art of Making Love
Penthouse, distributed by A'Vision entertainment, 60 minutes, not rated, 1993
This is an explicit but tasteful (no funky close-ups) demonstration of more than thirty of the positions described in the Kama Sutra, a 2,000-year-old classic of erotic instruction. The Kama Sutra has been in print in countless editions and has been illustrated by Chinese, Japanese, and Indian artists. According to the makers, this is the first film version of the secrets of the mysterious East.
The lovemaking, illustrated for some reason solely by white people, odd for a tradition whose source is in India, concentrates on position, explaining how and why each is effective. The cool, clipped male voice that narrates the film says that "the shifting, ever-changing postures flowing like dance figures one to another are only meant to express the tenderness of the controlling mind. Kama Sutra is especially valuable to couples who are married or in a long relationship." We agree and think this is a terrific video for couples to watch together. Some of us liked this video for the attention and instruction it gives to the needs of women. The voice over suggests "do what she likes" and "whatever you're doing, slow down--better at half the speed." Favorite Scene: a romantic Victorian claw-footed tub full of bubbles and love.
The lighting flatters the comely participants and the backgrounds are lovely--even the tree the couple leans against for support is an especially well-grown tree. If you are flexible and want a challenge or are looking for new ideas to add spice to your love life, this is the tape for you. Recommended.