When two people from radically different backgrounds agree wholeheartedly on something, listen closely. There is a good chance what they have to say might just be important. Let this book be the proof of that.
The co-authors of this book, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and I, are indeed very different people, from very different traditions, and with very different approaches to life and the world.
An outspoken, courageous and prolific speaker and writer, Shmuley is also a religious teacher. The perspective he brings to the Sensual Revolution is drawn from years of experience providing advice and counselling to married couples.
My background contrasts with Shmuley's – many would consider it the opposite of his. But while the broad strokes of my biography are well known, there is also a private side of my life that few will have heard. I started modelling for Playboy at the age of 22, and spent my 20s as a cast member on Baywatch. At an age when most people are discovering themselves for the first time as adults – in a time before the internet had yet taken over our lives and everyone had a taste of celebrity – I found myself sharing my own image with a generation. I watched as my name broke out from my immediate circle of friends, eventually reaching households all over the world. Surreally, I was called a “sex symbol,” a “bombshell,” a “goddess.”
It was a disconcerting experience for a shy, small town girl from Vancouver Island – a quiet, studious, girl who loved her Mom and Dad, but who had also had to deal with no small amount of trauma. In the early days it was tough, grappling with uncertainty and the sense of exposure. But I discovered I felt comfortable as long as I pretended to be someone else – playing the part in public, finding within myself a different persona for every shoot.
Some may smirk, but in no way do I want to disown the Playboy years or diminish their importance to me. These experiences were a sort of university for me. There I was given the opportunity to meet and befriend fascinating and beguiling people: men and women, souls and intellects, whose experiences and character and wisdom shaped me. It was an education: unique and brilliant and precious. Thinking of these years I am reminded of the words Anais Nin wrote on the development of woman on her own terms, rather than as an imitation of man. The theme of “woman finding her own language, articulating her own feelings, discovering her own perceptions.”
It's sometimes assumed that I should want to renounce those years as decadent or foolish. This is not the case. In hindsight I am very proud of the independent, unorthodox path I took: a path that allowed me to develop on my own terms, and not – as some might presume – on the terms of men. I am proud of the intense spiritual rewards my life has brought me and the wisdom I have been lucky enough to receive.
Most of all I am proud and in awe of the women I've met along the way: powerful, wise, fascinating women; women as diverse and varied, as contradictory and manifold, as the types Nin lists in her diaries: “the masculine, objective one; the child woman of the world; the maternal woman; the sensation-seeker; the unconsciously dramatic one; the churlish one; the cold, egotistical one; and the healing, intuitive guide-woman.”
I want to do justice to these women. I don't at all renounce my past. It is out of those experiences – and with these companions and guides – that I was able to define myself. It would have been so easy to lose myself then, eclipsed behind a stream of images. But I was there, among these women and it is there I came to understand the power and autonomy that was available to me in sensuality, there that I came to possess myself in that power, and that is what saved me.
It hasn't all been roses. Over the years fame can also be a prison. It can leave very little room for a real person to live behind it, very little space for honesty, very little time to age, or mourn, or love. Life is untidier than celebrity makes out. At times in my life it has been hard to shake the sense that it was happening to someone else – that I was the lesser twin to my public image: Pamela and I. It was Pamela who won the praise and the credit, renowned but shallow, never really allowed or expected to have any depth, while I was the thoughtful, sensitive one, reading voraciously, searching for meaning, suffering through my divorce and raising my boys, sometimes waking up and wondering where the last twenty years had gone.
“Look for something hard enough, and you will find it,” as my father told me once. Lately, I have taken a hard look at my life and experiences, and realized that I have a lot to say. Playboy models aren't supposed to have much to say – at least according to some – but it is that very background that I draw on for my philosophy. That's why, when I first met Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, I did not expect that we would find so much to agree on.
I was introduced to Shmuley through mutual friends based in Malibu. He wanted to recognize my activism at the Jewish Values awards. I was honored that I – having no Jewish background – would be recognized in this way. I went along, curious to meet him. Our first conversations were cordial but fascinating. He had heard I was a very good mother and was interested how this reconciled with my public image.
At the time I was going through a difficult stage of my life, and was preoccupied with the problem of happiness in marriage. Naturally, the discussion turned to this theme – to marriage and the difficulties it faces in our society. I was fascinated to discover the wealth of insight he had into both the eternal and the modern problems of love. He had a great ability to put his finger on the complexities of romantic life, concisely and simply. It was a surprise to me to discover a religious teacher who was so awake to the needs of intimacy between lovers, who understood that love must closely trace the contours of passion if it is to endure.
I was also intrigued to discover my beliefs about the importance of sensuality and sex in marriage being reflected back in fluent quotations from scripture. My father gave me a keen interest in mythology and folklore, and I have always had a huge respect for the wisdom buried in the mythologies of ancient cultures. So it was there – not in religious scripture - that I always looked to get perspective on human sexuality. On reflection though, it was not surprising there was agreement. Religious traditions are also human traditions, and sex and love are at the core of human experience. Such timeless and enduring expressions of human experience would naturally contain the same basic truths, the same delicate wisdom.
As fascinated as I was with his ideas, Rabbi Shmuley was also intrigued by mine. He was very interested in what he saw as apocalyptic contradictions in my character, and how they related to the topics we were talking about. It was clear from our discussion that I – just like anyone – have experienced my share of heartache in life. But, he exclaimed, if anyone should be free of the loneliness of our society, surely, it should be me. It should be Pamela – the lifelong cover girl. The woman who – as the tabloids and gossip blogs would have it – could have any man she wants. If Pamela could be lonely, if her heart could be broken, that's an apocalypse! What hope is there for anyone else?
Of course, as we both knew, this is a myth – I am a human being just like anyone else. Experiences affect me as much as they do anyone else. And, as the great psychologist Carl Jung once wrote, “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.”1 But the question itself was fruitful. We decided that perhaps, instead of despair, it would give people hope or reprieve to know that we are all – without exception – on the great quest for romantic companionship and sexual contentment. And thinking over it during our conversation, we realized that this supposed contradiction in me led deeper into the issues we were discussing, towards an understanding of the reasons for the dearth of love, of passion, of sex, in our contemporary society.
That was when we decided to work together on a book – a book which would capture these tensions, which would diagnose the problems of romantic passion in the 21st century, and which would point towards the solutions.
The title of our book – the Sensual Revolution – refers to a revolution in human affairs that we believe must happen to afford the greatest possibility of romantic fulfilment to the greatest number of people. It is a revolution that follows other cultural and sexual upheavals in our recent past, an adjustment that can restore balance to the way men and women relate to each other.
But the Sensual Revolution is also something that happened a long time ago. Ancient mythologies carry its secrets. It is the first flowering of human sexuality in a time before histories were written, and it can be found throughout the literature and poetry and philosophy of every age and every culture. It is the enduring art of human intimacy.
Our book is about how it has been lost, and not for the first time. Human intimacy has been distorted before, by new technologies which changed the way people connected to each other, and it was necessary each time for society to relearn how to love. In 1946 Nin wrote of “the dangerous time when mechanical voices, radios, telephones, take the place of human intimacies, and the concept of being in touch with millions brings a greater and greater poverty in intimacy and human vision.”
We are living through a similar change. How much has the “communications revolution” impoverished intimacy? There have been great strides forward in recent decades: sexual liberation, global activism, a revolution in information. These are precious gains and should not be lost. But without a practised understanding of the mysteries of human intimacy, of sensuality, the technologies of our age can easily lead us into alienation, disaffection and loneliness.
Shmuley and I agree: if the arts of intimacy and sensuality have been forgotten, they must be remembered again. Our culture must rediscover sensuality and sexiness, for the sake of meaning and value in our intimate lives. Our hope is that this book – the joint efforts of the most unlikely of co-authors: a Rabbi and a Playboy cover girl – can help that happen.