Ten years ago, Jane Fonda was 68 years old, I was just 27, and somewhere between The Four Seasons lobby and its ninth floor, she taught me more about sex than any sexual experience I’d ever had.
It was 2006 and I was working on my second book, The Vixen Diaries. Each afternoon, I’d leave home and drive into Beverly Hills just in time for lunch at the hotel. I’d sit at the same table (the only one near an outlet), whip out my laptop, plug it in, order an entree and a bottle of wine, and write until just before the dinner rush. I did this every weekday for the better part of a year and became well acquainted with the owners and staff at the posh hotel, where I met a bevy of guests, both local and from all over the world.
One afternoon, I finished my daily writing and was met by a friend who was staying at the hotel that week. I packed up my belongings and followed him to the elevator bay, with plans to stop by his room and drop my bag before heading up to the rooftop pool and restaurant. As we waited for the elevator doors to open, we were joined by one of those locals I mentioned — the incomparable Jane Fonda, legendary Hollywood royalty (and most recently, the star of Netflix’s Grace and Frankie).
Having lived in Los Angeles since 1999, celebrity sightings are not really sightings at all. It’s just a part of normal, everyday life and, though I was not underwhelmed by her presence, I was more than happy to share a quiet elevator ride with the star, never acknowledging her awesomeness.
But my friend had other plans.
Hailing from the South, my friend wasn’t as accustomed to the likes of legends like Jane Fonda, and before the elevator arrived, he turned to her and robustly exclaimed, “You’re Jane Fonda and I think you’re amazing!”
“Well, thank you. And what’s your name?” she replied, holding out her hand.
“Tony. I’m a boxer. And this is my friend, Karrine. She’s a New York Times bestselling author,” he gushed while gently shaking her hand.
I was so embarrassed as I turned around to greet Jane, trying not to picture her workout tapes or her role as Barbarella, the two ways I came to know her as a child.
“Hi, it’s such an honor to meet you,” I assured.
The elevator doors opened and we stepped in. Tony pressed the ninth floor button and asked Miss Jane, “Which floor?”
“Same floor!” Jane responded. It was quite the coincidence as the doors closed and the elevator made its way to the ninth. “So, Karrine, which books did you write?”
“Um, my first book was a book called Confessions of a Video Vixen. I’m here working on my second book now.”
“Oh! I know your book. My daughter loves you. I have a black adopted daughter. She read it in a day and talked about it for weeks. You’re a strong woman. Smart and sexual. Good for you!”
I think I was more shocked that Jane Fonda has a black daughter than the fact she knew who I was and what my book was about. I was more focused on that, and her way of assimilating with me through that fact as we stepped off the elevator and into the ninth floor bay.
“You know,” Jane continued, “I’m proud of you. Keep writing and keep being open about your sexuality; it’s healthy, and having sex is healthy. I’m almost 70 years old, and my boyfriend I have sex regularly — just earlier, as a matter of fact.”
“Really?” I asked, trying not to appear as shocked as I was at the idea of Jane Fonda and her boyfriend having lots of sex, and just hours ago, to boot.
I thought, She’s old enough to be my grandmother!
Wait, is my grandmother having sex, too?
And then she said, “Have lots of sex and have it all your life. It’ll keep you young and in shape.” Jane spread her arms like an eagle’s wings and continued, “Look at me. It works.”
With that, the three of us said our goodbyes and went our separate ways on the ninth floor. Maybe it seems like what Jane said wouldn’t have meant much to a budding 27-year-old author, but I never forgot it — it helped solidify what I would come to know as my sex positive feminism.
As young people, we tend to believe that sex is a young person’s game. Most people hate to think of their parents or any parents as sexual beings, much less grandparents. I became a mother as a teenager and so I never thought parents couldn’t or shouldn't be sexual. Naturally, as a single, young, attractive woman living in a big, flashy city, I knew there’d be lots of sex in my future — or at least I hoped there’d be. However, most of the parents at my son’s elementary school were at least 15 years older than I was and fell into the quintessential 40-something suburban boredom mold, and I could see how the stigmatic belief that parents aren’t sexy or sexual could be so widespread.
And grannies? Forget about it!
But in walks Jane, and right before my eyes is a woman nearing 70 years old, back then — nearing 80 today — and oozing sex appeal and sexual confidence. Not only that, Fonda is not interested in your sexual or respectability politics, nor your slut-shaming, age-shaming, or body-shaming.
Jane Fonda is me in 40 years.
That one brief conversation changed so much for me. In 2005, the same year Confessions of a Video Vixen was published, Fonda had also published her memoir, My Life So Far. Just as in the literary recollection of my life, Jane wrote about all facets of her professional and personal life, including sex. She named names and made it plain, and not all of it was becoming, because that’s just not how life works. But Jane didn’t hide behind a facade — she never has — and that is something I came to know and appreciate about her. She wrote openly about bedding prostitutes with her then-husband, Roger Vadim, for instance. That alone is something most women would be too embarrassed to admit.
And there was more, so much more.
Hers is a big life.
At just 27 years old, I hadn’t had a chance to have a life so big, but I wondered why I was being publicly persecuted for my sexual truth, a truth white women like Jane tell all the time with little to no backlash. There was and still is a very noticeable difference between sexual acceptance in the Black American community and in the White American community. More so, there is a noticeable difference in the way people in a liberal city like Hollywood see sex and the way most of the country sees it. At that time, I was stuck between my judgment-free life in Los Angeles and the cruel judgements of the world outside of its bubble.
I wondered how I could be as confident in that truth, just like Jane. Well, that day, with her support of me and my work, with her shameless womanhood proudly on display, Jane Fonda let me know that I was going to be okay. She assured me with her kind acknowledgment that I was being seen and heard, that my voice matters, and that the hate I would continue to receive, the death threats, and petitioning for my suicide, would be nothing compared to the joy I would feel when I, too, grew into my womanhood.
When I met Jane Fonda, I met my possibilities. I was met with a camaraderie and congratulations I hadn’t known at that time in my life and career, and barely know now. She let me know that there were real women out there who had experienced a lot of life, a lot of heartache, and lots of sex, who aren’t afraid or ashamed of any of it. She let me know that women like her understand women like me, and that we’re not so different. Her advice might have been tongue-in-cheek to someone else, but to me, it was a healthy slice of feminism, and all I knew is that I wanted to be just like that. All I knew is that I wanted to stand tall, open my arms wide like the wings of an eagle, and say, “Look at me. It works.”
So, as Jane prescribed, I am having lots of really good sex and I plan on having it all the days of my life. And true to form, I will never be ashamed to talk about it, whether in an essay such as this, another book, or in the elevator with a stranger. From 27, to 37, to 77, I am Karrine — sexual and free.