Jane Fonda's new book features several chapters devoted to encouraging sexuality in old age, a topic she knows is uncomfortable for many people.
Young people, that is.
"It's young people that have the hang-up," the 73-year-old icon said while chatting at a chic Toronto hotel this week.
"I think as the population ages in general, the taboo around sex at an older age will be lessened. Because after all, baby boomers think they invented sex, you know? Their knees and hips will go before their sex [drive] will.
"So I think it's going to become a much easier topic to talk about and I just happen to be a pioneer in it right now."
Of course, sex is only one part of the equation in Prime Time, a book that Ms. Fonda hopes will inspire readers – young and old – to make the most of their later years.
The book covers love, fitness, food, meditation and self-analysis. Ms. Fonda spent four years writing it and savoured the extensive research process, which involved travelling to conventions and conferences all over the continent and interviewing specialists including psychologists, scientists, gerontologists, sex therapists and physicists.
Yet much of the buzz around the book has surrounded Ms. Fonda's between-the-sheets straight talk. She offers advice on choosing the right sex toys, on managing the practical physiological hurdles that face older sexually active people and on the other sensory elements that can improve a couple's sex life – as Ms. Fonda calls it, the "friction and fantasy."
"It's very unusual that a book like this goes into sexuality with the detail that I go into," she says.
"I don't know – it's like you're not supposed to talk about it, or older people aren't supposed to be getting it on. And a lot don't! There's no question about it that a lot of people have closed up shop down there. But if you choose to be sexually active, it's important to know what's happening in your body that changes things.
"We're living 34 years longer than our great-grandparents did. That's an entire second adult lifetime. Why should we pack it in in any way when you have all that time?"
Ms. Fonda recently nabbed worldwide headlines with the admission that she took the male hormone testosterone to boost her libido.
She says it is "fantastic" for women whose doctors recommend it, but that she stopped the treatments because she got acne.
"I was going to be photographed and on TV a lot, and you can break out, and so I stopped taking it for a while," she said.
"Trust me – today's the last day of my book tour, I'm going right home and popping some testosterone."
That sort of honesty is characteristic of Ms. Fonda, both in her book and in person, where she doesn't bristle when asked questions about the intimate details of her personal life, and is matter-of-fact about her perceived shortcomings.
The sex-symbol star of Barbarella has recently revisited her once-ubiquitous series of workout tapes with new lower-intensity regimens designed for active older people. Ms. Fonda herself has a fake knee and hip, and can no longer go full throttle at the gym, but she hikes, swims, plays tennis and wants to learn to tap dance.
And while her book includes a spate of healthy-eating tips, Ms. Fonda acknowledges a fondness for the occasional double-cheeseburger (the California chain In-N-Out is her favourite). When asked about other vices, she lists only martinis – while mischievously pointing out that "some of them I can't mention."
Ms. Fonda again is frank about her use of plastic surgery in Prime Time, and even faces down her own mortality, discussing the way she'd like to die (surrounded by loved ones holding her hand, massaging her feet the way she used to do for her father and "making their love felt" ).
Such openness is easier now than it used to be. Ms. Fonda says that she's actually become happier and more comfortable in her own skin as she's aged, a phenomenon that she believes is more common than most people realize.
"I never thought I was going to live this long, to start with. Who knew that I would ever be this age, much less be happier than I used to be?
"The good old days were the so-so old days, as far as I'm concerned. I would not want to go back."
Prime Time offers a few clues as to why that is.
The crux of the lifestyle plan laid out by Ms. Fonda's book is the "life review." It's a process of thorough introspection that forces the "reviewer" to sift through a lifetime of memories and, eventually, come to peace with what has happened before.
For Ms. Fonda, that meant dragging herself through some painful periods. In the book, she writes about the suicide of her mother (Canadian-born socialite Frances Ford Seymour), about the way her father – the Oscar-winning actor Henry Fonda – crippled her self-esteem with insinuations that she was fat, and about her ensuing 20-year battle with anorexia and bulimia.
But Ms. Fonda said that probing those wounds finally allowed her to heal. The process also lifted her from a decade-long funk, which began with the dissolution of her second marriage (to activist Tom Hayden, whom she divorced in 1989). That period of depression and loneliness caused the two-time Oscar winner to temporarily quit acting and eventually, she says, brought about a nervous breakdown.
"When I was in my 40s, I would wake up every morning and have a dozen negative thoughts," she said. "Not any more."
She said the process also brought her to revelations about her three failed marriages (her most recent, to the media mogul Ted Turner, ended in 2001).
"All my life, I have been a pleaser, and I have had to be with a man, an alpha male," she said.
"I married three men who were each powerful in their own ways. And when I was 62, and I left Ted Turner, [it] was a very sad thing for me because I loved him and I was hoping the marriage would work, but I couldn't become who I wanted to be in the context of that marriage. And for the first time in my life, I knew that I would be okay without a man, and I was celibate for seven years. And I was just fine, thank you. It would have been just fine to stay that way. But then I fell in love again."
Ms. Fonda is referring to her ongoing relationship with music producer Richard Perry, with whom she lives in Los Angeles. She says he's different than the men she's been with in the past. "My honey is not an alpha male. It's a big difference."
And she's different too.
"I'm not a woman any more who will give up who I am in order to please a man. I will try to be who I am, and if it doesn't work, so be it. It's not going to scare me too much."
The Canadian Press