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SEX OK, NOW THAT WE HAVE YOUR ATTENTION ... ARE SOCIETY'S MIXED MESSAGES RUINING OUR LOVE LIVES?

Byline: Phil Davis Staff Writer

Victoria's Secret ads for the shape of desire. Calvin Klein's unclothed clothing models. More than 50 ways to please your lover on every magazine rack. Viagra. Dennis Franz's bare bottom on ``NYPD Blue.'' Trojan Man. Shagadelic, baby.

Some 35 years after the era of free love, we're awash in sexual imagery. But instead of being liberated, we seem at sea.

Drop into any bookstore and look at its Valentine Day's exhibit. There will be the usual books on how to have a romantic getaway or dinner, but probably more than half will have titles like ``How to Give Her Absolute Pleasure,'' ``101 Nights of Grrreat Sex,'' ``Extraordinary Togetherness: A Woman's Guide to Love, Sex and Intimacy,'' ``Complete Guide to Sexual Fulfillment,'' ``The Magic of Sex,'' ``The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amazing Sex,'' ``Great Sex Guide'' ``The Ultimate Sex Book''...

You get the picture - and literally, since many of these books are filled with real models posed in sexual positions and fairly explicit illustrations. But does a culture where sex sells everything (including Uncle Ben's rice) really need an idiot-proof guide to the art and science of lovemaking in the same terms as tiling the floor?

``In spite of the fact every generation learns about sex, thinks it's comfortable with it and believes it is going to transmit that comfort to its children, it never quite works that way,'' said Anne Hooper, a British sex therapist and prolific author of sex books, including the pocket-size ``Great Sex Guide'' (DK Publishing; $14.95). ``Each generation has to discover what happens or doesn't happen during sex for themselves.''

And if you think this is some aberration, there is even a ``Reader's Digest Guide to Love & Sex,'' complete with graphic illustrations, shots of sex toys, models posed in fantasy positions - including bondage - and a sex and technology chapter. Call it the Farmer's Almanac of sex books.

A bus bench beckons, ``Sit here and get lucky.'' No, there isn't any special device involved (we don't think). It's just a teasing way to market Lucky Brand jeans, which are shown on the sign with the fly provocatively unbuttoned. Lane Bryant, a store for plus-size women, has a large photo in its window of a model in a pink lace bra. ``Sexy intimates,'' it says, ``sensual, lacy, pink, seductive, erotic, arousing.''

< When it comes to sex, we're bombarded with mixed messages. Listen to a pro football game (that macho sport). Recent radio broadcasts had ads that illustrated these contradictions. One condom commercial has a businessman whose rendezvous with a co-worker who wants to check out his ``laptop'' is made a success with the aid of Trojan Man. The other features a self-confident businessman who wilts when his wife calls to suggest an intimate evening. An announcer then comes on to assure him that there is help for his sexual dysfunction problems. So we're either hot to trot or paralyzed.

Couple this with the fact that movies, television and other mass media further feed a sexual inferiority complex by perpetuating stereotypes that men and women must be large in certain areas, small in others and, always, beautiful to have fantastic sex. Aside from Dennis Franz, who bared his doughy behind on ABC's ``NYPD Blue,'' there's very little flab, back hair, pimples, awkward movements or anything even remotely unattractive in mass-media sex.

That fuels a sexual grass-is-greener syndrome in many couples.

``People are asking for more,'' said Linda Fazio, a professor and expert in sexual dysfunction at the University of Southern California. ``I think most people aren't very happy with their results. They believe even if they are having a satisfying relationship, someone else is having something better.''

< When Bob Dole, senator and presidential candidate, retired from public office, he did his first commercial endorsement. What did he choose to sell? Viagra. Four words: Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Female athletes have been baring it all to promote themselves and their sports outside their usual fan base, from nude calendars and print ads to boxer Mia St. John's well-publicized Playboy appearance. Most people agree that when U.S. women's soccer star Brandy Chastain ripped off her jersey after the winning point it was a spontaneous act, but it nevertheless made her famous. She has since appeared in a TV commercial showing her beating two men at a game of foosball, and they wait for her to celebrate in the same way.

< Couple all this with a collective cultural cold shower courtesy of unprecedented stress in modern life, and it's little wonder the Western world's birthrate is in decline. We've lost that lovin' feelin'.

``We're living very busy lives,'' says Hooper. Stress depresses libido ... (sex) does get to be hard work.''

Clearly, we've got problems. But there's no need to run off and join a monastery, insist therapists.

``What people have to realize,'' says Sari Locker, author of the ``Idiot's Guide'' sex book, ``is they have to play with their sexuality, they have to try to have fun, be creative and spontaneous.''

Adds Lou Paget, author of ``How to Give Her Absolute Pleasure: Totally Explicit Techniques Every Woman Wants Her Man to Know,'' ``Hey, even the best chefs in the world don't rest their laurels on a single dish.''

< Each week, research scientists come out with dozens of reports about their greater understanding of the human body, the causes of its illnesses and all the possible cures and preventions. But it seems the ones we most remember are studies like the one that said men are aroused by the smell of pumpkin pie. (Lock up or guard your daughters on Thanksgiving.)

< ``We never have done it right,'' says Gloria Brame, author of ``Come Hither: A Common Sense Guide to Kinky Sex,'' echoing Randy Newman's satiric song ``Maybe I'm Doing It Wrong.'' ``The realm of sex remains mysterious to most people, and there is a tremendous thirst for knowledge.''

You mean after Hugh Hefner and his swinging bunny lifestyle, Helen Gurly Brown with ``Sex and the Single Girl,'' Erica Jong's ``Fear of Flying'' (anonymous sex), the women's liberation moment and on and on, we still don't know what we're doing?

``People tell me every day how bored they are with their sex lives, how they can't find anything new, that there's just no excitement,'' said author Locker. ``It's incredibly common. That's why people buy these books.''

Granted, the books can be seen as part of the sex saturation problem. But the intentions are mostly good, and a careful shopper can come away with months of ideas and activities sure to put some zing in their romantic flings. One of the good things to come out of our oversexed society is that frank sex talk is more permissible than ever - thanks to everything from Dr. Ruth to MTV's ``Loveline'' to fear of AIDS. A sex book can help spark a conversation, or provide new ideas or validation that wanting to be spanked doesn't make you some kind of freak.

There is no single best book; it's a very personal choice. Locker's ``Idiot's Guide'' and Hooper's ``The Ultimate Sex Book'' touch on everything from basic male and female anatomy to tantric sexual techniques. Hooper's advice also comes on two CD-ROMs (including 300 photos, couple's case files and 30 animated sequences) for those who can't pry themselves from their computer.

Then there is Brame's ``Come Hither,'' an introduction to the world of kinky sex. There also are plenty of translations of Vatyayana's fourth- century (old school) sex book, ``The Kama Sutra,'' which offers variety ranging from easy to athletic.

< If a man never heard the music before, what might compel him to pick up a CD by Shania Twain, Mariah Carey or Faith Hill? Probably not just the fact that they're beautiful women but that they're depicted as beautiful women who really want that guy holding the CD. Their look is similar to Playboy photo layouts - you know, that get-acquainted page or two before the women shed everything.

< So if we're unhappy, blame it on movies, television, the porn industry; blame it on Mom and Dad. Unrealistic expectations cause us to make skewed judgments about our own sex lives. But while books can help, counting on movie-style fireworks every time is a sure setup for disappointment.

One thing for certain, though, is that we will continue to be bombarded with sexual messages and images. Glance down at those magazines in the checkout line: Esquire has its ``Desire Issue'' fronted by leather- clad Angelina Jolie clutching her breast; Marie Claire has ``Your Sex Life: How often? How good? How orgasmic?''; teen-targeted Cosmo Girl features ``Prom Night: Be the Hottest Girl.'' Even Men's Health is not immune. Inside it may address cholesterol, hypertension and other topics, but on the cover is ``Look Great Naked'' - presumably not for the locker room - and ``Sex: Who Needs a Bed.'' And then there's Psychology Today with ``Why Freud Matters in 2000.'' Just checking to see if you're still reading.

But the picture of Sigmund posed with a cigar reminds us what he said when asked if the stogie was a phallic symbol. ``Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,'' he deadpanned.

And sometimes sex is just sex, and maybe that's all we need to remember.

Staff Writer Valerie Kuklenski contributed to this story.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- cover -- color) sex by the book

What all the how-to manuals are telling us about our love lives

Phil McCarten/Staff Photographer

(2 -- 3) no caption (Bus bench advertising)

Edna Trunnell-Simpson/Staff Photographer

(4) no caption (Sex books)
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 13, 2000
Words:1591
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