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by Linda Troeller and Marion Schneider
Scalo, 1998
Review by Heather C. Liston on Mar 21st 2002

The Erotic Lives of Women

In a society filled with sexual imagery, advertising, and exploitation, we see photographs of beautiful, sexy women everywhere.  Most of those photos, however, are taken by men; most erotic movies are directed by men; most advertising agencies, ditto.  What a novel idea, then, for Marion Schneider and Linda Troeller to set out to discover what women find erotic; to ask the subjects themselves to come up with the settings, the images, and the text.  The glossy, hardcover book that resulted from this project, The Erotic Lives of Women, features thirty-five women opening themselves through words and pictures for our edification and, one hopes, for their own enjoyment. 

Schneider, a scholar and spa-owner from Grebenhain, Germany conducted the interviews; and Troeller, a photographer from New York City, took the pictures.  They started by interviewing and photographing each other, and then they sought out other women who were willing to participate.  The authors asked each woman the same four questions:

·          What does the word “erotic” mean to you?

·          Do you remember your first erotic feeling and could you show it to the camera?

·          Can you remember your strongest erotic feeling and show it to the camera?

·          Do you have certain fantasies and could you show them to the camera?

The consistency of the inquiry does not yield consistent responses.  Some women want to talk a lot; some don’t have much to say.  Some seem to love posing, in all varieties of clothing and all views of their nudity, while one shows the camera only her empty shoes.   The women featured here range in age from eighteen to sixty and they come from Morocco, Norway, Brazil, Italy, Germany, France, Israel, and the Ukraine as well as the United

States.  There is a belly dancer, an architect, a filmmaker, a social worker, a gallery director, a professor, several homemakers, and a cigarette vender.  There are virgins, divorcees, lesbians, mothers, and wives—some happily married, some not.  Some of their memories, fantasies, and descriptions are romantic and cerebral. 

Laura, a 59-year-old events coordinator, mentions “ . . . making love on the sand. The sea, the sun, the excitement of being exposed” while Yifat, an Israeli philosopher of 37, says, “I guess that is my fantasy, that a man knows me in a very, very concrete, very mundane, very worldly, very intimate way,” and Kata, 17, says “I painted my hands and my feet with henna to express my joy and happiness, to show my feelings to the ones I want to show them to.”  Some comments are much more graphic and involve specific body parts, “his tender stiffness . . . male strength and craving” . . .  “I still remember the taste of his tongue” . . . and one woman, Maria the American filmmaker, says “ . . . life is an erotic experience, it happens daily, I live it, I breathe it, it’s part of my life style, it’s part of my art.”

All this variety seems quite definitely to be part of the point.  The women of Playboy often appear indistinguishable: one unrealistically slim but voluptuous blonde after another with their predictable and simplistic “turn-ons.”  The women of Erotic Lives are decidedly not alike.  Each one is an individual, specific woman with her own body, her own thoughts, and her own relationship to sex.  Thank God.

 

© 2002 Heather Liston. First Serial Rights.

Heather C. Liston studied Religion at Princeton University and earned a Masters degree from the NYU Graduate School of Business Administration. She is the Director of Development for The Santa Fe Children's Museum, and writes extensively on a variety of topics. Her book reviews and other work have appeared in Self, Women Outside, The Princeton Alumni Weekly, Appalachia, Your Health and elsewhere.