Most American women are pretty removed from Hollywood, but sometimes what happens on the screen has an impact well beyond the movies.
At 48 years old, Sharon Stone exudes a confident sexuality that few women half her age can match. Perhaps that's why she's appearing entirely naked in the sequel to the 1992 voyeuristic thriller "Basic Instinct."
When Stone uncrossed her legs and bared it all for just a brief moment 14 years ago, it was something of a touchstone in the history of popular culture's portrayal of sex. She was a woman using her sexuality as power, although some people thought it was just crude. She is reviving her role as Catherine Trammel, the bisexual novelist who wields an ice pick, in "Basic Instinct 2." The movie opens in the United States next week.
"I thought it would be intriguing to do the nudity in a way that is just quite brazen. People are going to have this moment where they think, 'Oh, she's not 20 and naked. She's 40-something and naked and what do I think about that?' Because we're not used to seeing that in movies," Stone told reporters.
The first "Basic Instinct" was racy, but Stone pushed producers to make this one even more revealing. "I wanted a lot of sex in the sequel, and I wanted more nudity," the actress said. "I was coming from a really kinky place."
To get in shape for the film, Stone did a lot of Pilates. She did not use a body double -- her spokeswoman said she didn't need to. No matter what you think of the movie and the values it depicts, there is something to be said for that.
In Hollywood, many young stars are still reluctant to show their bodies on the big screen. Keira Knightley, 20, admits using a body double for the racier scenes in "Domino." Knightley told reporters, "I don't mind about the boobs, not the butt. … I'm a woman. There's no reason to it." Knightly also admits she did not have time to train for the role in which her character has steamy dance scenes in a strip club. At 23, Julia Roberts requested a stand-in for her more revealing scenes in "Pretty Woman."
Apart from Stone's good looks and figure, why would a woman who has undoubtedly acquired figure flaws during her 48 years be more willing to show her stuff than a woman half her age?
"Once women reach their 40s, psychologically they know themselves better and they know their bodies better," said Lisa Feldman, a Los Angeles-based marriage and family therapist.
Belisa Vranich, a psychologist and editor at Men's Health magazine, said that women in their 40s were more confident. "You learn how to love beautiful parts of your body and not worry about the others. In their 20s, women just want perfection." When women hit their mid-30s, she explained, they start to accept their bodies.
Perhaps that's why a slew of older women have bared it all on-screen and onstage. Actress Kathleen Turner disrobed as Mrs. Robinson for the U.K. theater production of "The Graduate." At 57, Diane Keaton was caught in the nude by the skirt-chasing perennial bachelor played by Jack Nicholson in the film "Something's Gotta Give."
And last year, model and actress Lauren Hutton posed naked for the magazine Big. This was the first time that Hutton's photos were not retouched or airbrushed. She told Diane Sawyer, "I want them [women] not to be ashamed of who they are when they're in bed. Society has told us to be ashamed."
Today women are more focused on their health than they were 20 years ago.
"We're younger inside," said Vranich, who is 40 but could pass for 30. She attributes this to women knowing more about nutrition, fitness, and quick cosmetic fixes such as Botox. "We're taking better care of ourselves than our mothers did," she added.
Pampering is not just for the Hollywood set. Jim Ryno, owner of three boutique gyms in the New York suburbs, agreed. Many of his clients are in their 40s. "Women care more about their bodies and are slowing down the effects of aging by exercising regularly."
A healthier body, Vranich believes, improves a woman's self-esteem and eliminates "hang-ups" -- leading to a better sex life. "By this time, women have been sexually active for years and they know how to please themselves," Feldman said. When it comes to dating, men may benefit too.
Vranich added that women in their 40s were in their sexual prime. "They have better stamina," she said, "which makes older women particularly well-suited for younger men."
"Hollywood has to do it first before we go there," Vranich said. Forty-three-year-old Demi Moore's marriage to 28-year-old Ashton Kutcher is the perfect example. "It takes just a few beautiful women in their 40s to set a trend, and guys will notice."
Some people may disagree entirely with the idea of anyone getting naked on the screen, but experts on sexuality and aging agree that these high-profile older women are setting the stage for the rest of us -- telling women to accept their bodies and strut with the confidence of a Hollywood movie star even if it's only in their own bedrooms.