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Image: Marlene Dietrich
Don English  /  Getty Images file
Actress Marlene Dietrich could make even non-smokers yearn for a match, but in modern times, smoking has become a fetish for some.
By msnbc.com contributor
updated 5/18/2010 8:21:18 AM ET 2010-05-18T12:21:18

Is it odd that he gets hot when his wife lights a cigarette? After a long bout of celibacy, does it hurt to get back in the game? Sexploration answers your most intimate queries. Got a question? E-mail us . We'll post answers to selected questions.

Q: I like to watch my wife smoke, not during sex, just once in awhile. She’s not a regular smoker and I don’t want her to develop the habit because we are a very healthy couple. But it really does something for me. Is this common? Is there a safe way for her to do it (like twice a year) without developing the habit?

Is this common? To think a woman smoking might be sexy? In my old high school, if you wanted some idea of who the wicked girls were, you’d find out which ones snuck cigarettes in the bathrooms. These weren’t the goody-two-shoes, obey the rules, no-making-out-on-the-first-date girls, no sireee! I remember — well, never mind what I remember.

The point is that smoking and naughtiness have been linked since at least 1917 when silent film star Theda “The Vamp” Bara, billed as the wickedest woman in the world, lounged on a settee wearing a transparent gown and languidly raising a cigarette to her lips. This was five years before a woman in New York City was arrested for smoking in public. It was 11 years before Edward Bernays pulled off the most successful public relations stunt in history on behalf of the American Tobacco Company by arranging for women to stroll down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in the 1929 Easter Parade while smoking. The resulting rotogravure pictures in newspapers sent cigarette sales soaring.

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Now, of course, we know that smoking kills people. But the smoking backlash can have the perverse effect of making it seem even more decadent, sort of like eating a bacon-stuffed meatloaf wrapped in bacon. Mmmm. So we get thousands of smoking fetish photos on Flickr, smoking fetish videos on You Tube, and, of course, smoking porn sites galore.

Why can smoking be a turn on? A 2005 paper by University of Southern California sociologist Julie Albright quotes Freud’s old saw about cigars and cigarettes being phallus substitutes: “‘To put it plainly: the fetish is a substitute for the woman’s (mother’s) phallus which the little boy once believed in and does not wish to forego….’ The fetish as symbol of the mother’s penis comes also to represent her desire, thereby affirming that her desire lies with him and not with the father.”

Maybe, but Freud was so wrong about so much.

Many sexually charged smoking images feature beautiful, unsmiling women often wearing miniskirts and heels, leather, severe business attire, or dominatrix gear. The women are sexually aggressive and a little unapproachable. Albright’s own analysis of smoking videos featuring young women or girls suggests that smoking signals “sexual precocity.” In other words, it’s kinda slutty, which some people apparently find sexy (see “Pretty Wild,” cast of). This might be especially true for you since you don’t seem to have a fetish, just a desire for a little variation.

We here at Sexploration strongly oppose tobacco products and the havoc they've wreaked in people's lives. But smoking is legal and having your wife light up a few times a year — without inhaling — probably isn’t going to wreck all the good your low-carb, no-red-meat diet is doing.  

Q: I have been celibate except for self satisfaction for over two years. A gal I just reunited with after 40-plus years has been [celibate] for ten-plus years. I know this will be a wonderful reunion. I am also concerned that it may hurt her. We are both in our fifties and want [our experience] together to be fulfilling. Suggestions? I am not sure about these lubricants.

Vaginal atrophy can happen quickly, slowly, or not at all. Most often it occurs in menopausal women due to a lack of estrogen — up to half of postmenopausal women will have symptoms. But women of any age — cancer patients who've gone through chemotherapy, for instance —can experience it, too.

Show them you still got it!Symptoms usually include painful intercourse, which is why you consulted Sexploration. However, women might also experience urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections, so this is certainly something to be avoided even if you’ve sworn off sex. 

Usually vaginal atrophy is easily treated with intravaginal doses of estrogen, or with hormone replacement therapy (which may not be appropriate for every woman). But one way to keep her lady parts working is to use them. Having sex is therapeutic, and that’s not just Sexploration saying so. According to the Mayo Clinic “regular sexual activity helps you maintain healthy vaginal tissues.” Yippee!

She doesn't necessarily need a man, either. The sex toy industry is here to help. If buying AA-powered joy isn’t for her, ask a gynecologist about a vaginal dilator, essentially the same thing only more clinical and without the vibrations.

So, Mr. Concerned, while we applaud your gallantry, we have to point out that she may have been self-pleasuring just as you have been. Women do it, too, you know. Either way, savor the reunion slowly. No need to catch up on 40 years all at once, if you catch my drift. And though we here at Sexploration haven’t deciphered “not sure about these lubricants” we can assure you that a good lube, available in any drugstore, is a bigger boon to people over 50 than “mobility scooters” and Florida Early Bird Specials.

Brian Alexander is the author of the book “America Unzipped: In Search of Sex and Satisfaction," now in paperback.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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