Hot. Sultry. Seductive. These are all words that could describe Southwest Florida-and the mature, sexy sirens who are making this area their home. Whether they're happily married, forever single or somewhere in between, they're part of a movement afoot in our culture today, a whole new attitude toward aging that says 40 is the new 30 and 50 is the new 40, and 60 is-well, you get the drift.
Women want to look attractive, have sizzling sex lives and keep reinventing themselves well beyond the first flush of youth. And what better place to do it? Our tropical paradise offers endless opportunities to show some skin and some middle-age savvy. We have great skin-care clinics, top dermatologists and plastic surgeons and a wide range of gyms and exercise options to keep us looking foxy and fabulous.
Women intend to enjoy a lifestyle in Southwest Florida that's S.E.X.Y.-Stylish, Energized, X-rated and Youthful. Many are in their middle years, but it's a time that proves age isn't anything but a number. The more candles that blaze on the birthday cake, the better. That means life is getting even more sizzling.
Mike Andoscia, a sociologist at Edison College in Fort Myers, has watched this phenomenon develop. "The baby boomers created the 'youth culture,' and it's stretching out longer and longer," he says. "There's this big push to stay young well into middle age, and the media uses sex appeal to target this group-especially women. Baby boomer women have a youth-oriented identity, and they're willing to do what it takes to see that reflected in the mirror."
At a recent luncheon, a group of Southwest Florida women discussed how they're enjoying the prime of their lives in one of the prime locales of the country. At 50-something, Wendy Resnick, director of United Cerebral Palsy of Sarasota-Manatee, proclaims, "I'm confident and comfortable in my own skin-and that's sexy." She certainly looks it. With her dark hair, flawless skin and trim figure, she's the poster woman for attractive staying power. So much so, she practically has to fight off advances-and in some of the most unexpected places.
"I once had a guy follow me into the ladies room for a tryst at a conference," she confesses with a smile. "I politely turned him down, but it turned me on just to know I could provoke that kind of reaction from a man at my age."
Her friend, 40-something Bitsy Raven, agreed with a confident toss of her long blond hair, adding that her family, friends and community encourage her to keep young: "It's about growth, continually reinventing myself." And Sarasota is the right place to do that, she adds: "I can't imagine being any place else that would encourage me to keep on the cutting edge of what's youthful."
Like Resnick, Raven says a little age need not diminish a woman's appeal. "I find I attract more men now than I did 10 years ago," she says. "It's incredible what a little maturity can do for your sex appeal."
No doubt about it, this taboo-busting, Tropics-loving group is part of a trend reflected in the rest of the country. Models are getting contracts well into their 40s, Lauren Hutton posed nude at 62, and the Desperate Housewives are changing men faster than their Manolo Blahniks.
"The media provides examples that show women it's possible to look sexy well into maturity," says Andoscia, who adds that our lengthening life span defines middle age differently from our parents' generation. "As people have more and more years to live, they can plan how to live-and take advantage of all the youth-boosting medical advancements." That means vitamins for breakfast, "no down-time" skin peels for lunch and maybe even Viagra after dinner.
Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker is changing the public's view about middle age now that she's turned the big four-O. And it isn't just about throwing out old ideas about expanding waistlines and wearing matronly clothes. It's about attitude: breaking the rules, embracing your inner sassiness and sending out the message that there's no cutoff for sex appeal.
Sarasota's Elle McComb, a mother, wife and busy volunteer who's in her 40s, says she feels more attractive than ever: "I dress my age, but add a subtle, sexy element that says more about my self-confidence at this stage of my life." With her low-cut top, diamond rings and discreet cleavage, she is anything but the typical image of a housewife. "I'm happily married-but also happy to see that men still find me attractive," she says.
Staying stylish in Florida in middle age means developing your own je ne sais quoi. No geezer chic, thank you very much. Our tropical climate just begs for people to show some skin. Sundresses, halter-tops and flirty skirts-they can all be worn by the sexy-at-any-age group, with a few modifications. McComb says she avoids the bare midriff, but has nothing against a slightly low-cut top: "That's the part of the woman's body that defies age and stays attractive for a long time. I intend to show it."
Fort Myers Beach's not-so-desperate housewife and English professor, Ellie Bunting, considers exercise key in helping her to look-and feel-sexy in her mid-50s. "It's all about good health and my Trek bike," she says. Bunting logs 60 to 80 miles a week on her bike, pedaling the length of the beach and scaling the heights of shell mounds at Lover's Key.
"It's important to continually keep adapting exercise to your changing body," she notes. "I blew my knee out running, so now I work out on the bike."
Women in Southwest Florida don't have the "winter body" time, adds Andoscia: "They're on display all year round and continually focus on being trim and toned." But all of that takes time-and money. "This youth culture does have a certain class element," Andoscia says. "The Desperate Housewives aren't living in trailers. They've got the financial wherewithal to invest in fitness."
And what better exercise is there than the X-rated kind? "It's a given: Sex keeps people young," emphasizes Tina Wainscott, a Naples romance/suspense writer (In Too Deep) who's looking forward to her 40s. "I feel great about myself and expect to feel even sexier as I grow older. Like wine, we women just keep getting better as we age."
Over lunch, Wainscott and fellow romance writer Lynn Hallberg Enchanted Evening, discussed why their books appeal to older women. "Women like to read about sex and the possibility of love at any stage of their lives. Sexuality in middle age can be even more satisfying than in one's younger years. There's something to be said for experience," Hallberg says with a sly smile.
"The publishers are responding to this trend," adds Wainscott. "Harlequin/Silhouette is launching a new line called Next with plots that focus on women at the next stage of their lives. These heroines are starting new careers or new relationships-just like a lot of women when they move to Southwest Florida. We're really the next stage right here."
Next, indeed. We live in an environment that stimulates all of our senses. Night-blooming jasmine. Tropical sunsets. Al fresco dining. Every moment is filled with breathtaking possibilities of sensuality. And we are never too old to enjoy the beauty of nature-or the thrill that comes from the possibility of love, both in books and real life.
And the potential pairings are also evolving. Older men, younger women-that's a given. But now there's a new model: foxy older women and younger men. (Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, anyone?)
"I'm open to all possibilities when it comes to relationships. Age is a non-issue," says Bobbie Buczyna, a computer science professor in her mid-50s in Fort Myers who spends her off time ballroom dancing or riding her Harley-Davidson motorcycle. "Let me tell you, the game of seduction just keeps getting better as I get older," she says, her dark eyes twinkling. "Many of the professional men I've met in my Harley group are like me: We've got the time to enjoy the game. I was once dating two men at once-something I would never have done when I was younger. But, hey, I've grown smarter and more savvy about relationships, and I'm willing to take risks."
Maybe that's the real secret to our changing attitudes about sex: keeping the love lights on in our brains. Not letting our mental metabolisms accept the ravages of time.
"Women can be the aggressor in middle age; they don't have to pretend to be shy about getting their needs met," Wainscott says. "I see my friends in Naples much more open about their sexuality. The topic of sex comes up a lot, and we're pretty frank about what gives us pleasure. When I was writing only romance novels, women came up to me all the time at book signings in Naples to tell me about their sex lives-and I'm not sure I could have imagined some of the things they told me."
Still, it's going to take more than sex to keep us young. Being in the best years of our lives means accepting that we're not 20 anymore. Needless to say, we're not about to go gently into that stuck-in-a-rut, over-40 good night. There are too many ways to keep channeling our youthful selves.
Good beauty habits, from sunscreen to regular facials, help when crow's-feet and wrinkles start advancing with relentless determination. "I get asked for prescription-strength Retin-A probably 10 times a day," says Dr. William Elstein, a Sarasota dermatologist. "It's the only proven cream to reduce wrinkles, and women love the results."
Pine Island's Center of Attention Day Spa owner, Tonya Edler, agrees that women are increasingly well informed about which products can keep their skin dewy and youthful. "Most of my clients now know the difference between a vitamin C mask and an alpha-hydroxy peel," she says. "They come in with the latest article about a skin procedure and want to know if we can provide it. Nine times out of 10, we can."
Even with all the less-invasive enhancements, there may come a time when the middle-aged siren will have to resort to professional help to keep that youthful glow. In other words, a plastic surgeon.
Last year, nearly 11.9 million surgical and nonsurgical cosmetic procedures were performed in this country, and judging by the proliferation of plastic surgeons in Southwest Florida, many of them were performed right here. Liposuction. Breast augmentation. Botox. Microdermabrasion. Restylane. The list is endless. What gravity does to us, the surgeon can undo. Sort of.
If you want to go the plastic surgery route, this is the area for it. Hotels offer packages and spas promote special rates to make the surgical down time seem more like taking a vacation-a hideaway to heal. Naples plastic surgeon (and co-author of Your Complete Guide to Cosmetic Surgery) Dr. Kriston Kent says the market for plastic surgery has not only grown, it's widened. Once cosmetic surgery was something celebrities and the very wealthy did; now it's entered the mainstream, with many middle-class women feeling they deserve and can afford to look their best for as long as possible. Local plastic surgeons do lots of work for trophy wives and high-profile executives, but they treat attorneys, housewives, teachers, waitresses and school bus drivers as well.
Still, these doctors caution, while plastic surgery can turn back the aging clock somewhat, it won't transform you into the person you were 20 years ago. And who'd want it to? Youthful doesn't mean young; it means looking the best you can at whatever time of life.
"The bottom line is I feel absolutely delighted about who I am," Resnick declares proudly. "This is the best time of my life, and I intend to enjoy every minute of it."
So what's sexy in Southwest Florida? You are.
Marty Ambrose is a 40-something English professor at Edison College and author of the Mango Bay mystery series; she says she's avidly following the advice she acquired while writing this article-much to her husband's delight.
Noel Hazard, executive director of the Sarasota Film Society, picks the steamiest movies ever (in ascending order of heat).
10. Witness (1985)
"Harrison Ford's big-city cop and this Amish woman [Kelly McGillis] have a forbidden attraction, and slowly they get to the point where they surrender [to their feelings]. But even [in] the scenes whey they're just starting to notice each other there's this really effective sexual tension."
2. A History of Violence (2005)
"When [Maria Bello's character] finds out her mild-mannered husband is an aggressive killer, she's both attracted and repelled. The love scene is charged with [that] intensity."
8. 2046 (2004)
"This Japanese film is beautiful-painting with cinematography. The love scenes just drip with color."
7. The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)
"Nicholson is much more menacing [than John Garfield in the 1946 original]. The scene in the kitchen of the diner, after a lot of flirting, is very erotic. Jessica Lange is hot stuff here."
6. Henry & June (1990)
"It's about experiencing life to the fullest. When Henry and June seduce the young woman for the first time-to her amazement-it's an innocent's sexual awakening."
5. Y tu mama tambien (2001)
"Two teenage boys and a sexy older woman. There are some unusual combinations. It's very life-affirming."
4. Body Heat (1981)
"Kathleen Turner has never been sexier. She seduces William Hurt's character, then locks the door, tells him to go away. In a storm, he smashes a window and breaks in. And she's standing there as though she expects this."
3. Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
"A lot of period pieces we think wholesome entertainment-Merchant Ivory. The setting is very prim and proper, but [the film] is both sexy and devious. Also: corsets!"
2. Bugsy (1991)
"The attraction of the bad boy. Warren Beatty plays a vicious gangster, and Annette Bening plays a Hollywood actress, more [tart] than starlet. It's not a romance, but there really is chemistry-[Beatty and Bening] met on the set and later married."
1. From Here to Eternity (1953)
"The perfect love scene for Sarasota [with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr]: passion, surf, sex and sand! In real life, it wouldn't be comfortable at all."
FEAST OF LOVE
For a culinary prelude to Valentine's Night, we turned to Dan Olson, executive chef at Siesta Key's romantic Ophelia's on the Bay. He created a four-course menu loaded with aphrodisiacs, both rumored and scientific. Here are his dishes and some of their potential effects:
Maine lobster and green chili bisque with Osetra caviar crème fraîche and cream sherry Chili boosts heart rate and stimulates circulation; lobster and caviar have phosphorus, which nourishes nerve cells.
Hazelnut-dusted foie gras with butter-poached cold-water oysters, white truffle scented veal jus and crisp pancetta Hazelnuts, ancient fertility symbols, boast vitamin E, a natural cure for impotence; oysters' famous reputation comes from their abundance of phosphorus and zinc, an aid to sexual health in men and women.
Pan-roasted rack of lamb with pistachio and herb chevre crust and mint-infused zinfandel syrup served over grilled pencil asparagus salad Pistachios were the Queen of Sheba's favorite aphrodisiac; mint's scent encourages amore; and suggestively shaped asparagus is a diuretic-a stimulant for men, especially.
And finally, to be shared: Belgian white chocolate mousse with dark-chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne Chocolate contains powerful mood-enhancers; champagne sets a romantic scene, and as any Casanova knows, alcohol can turn a shy woman into a savage.