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Graying Down Under

More Than Numbers

I stood in a tanning booth, stark naked, one February afternoon several years ago, when I was but the innocent young age of 39. I had my sunglass-goggles on, the ones that make everything seem a wild shade of rosy orange. I’d completed a reasonable workout (enough to make me feel smugly superior to the dames who sat around gossiping for two hours; but not enough to leave me feeling the equal of those hard athletic-bodied young women who seem to ooze sex and fitness out of every cell).

I live in a place where winter means short dark days. My skin gets dull and waxy. I get extremely tired, and pack on a nice layer of insulating blubber. Nature is telling me to hibernate. Tanning helps me counteract all that, and I treat myself to regular sessions a few times a week. So within the confines of the vertical tanning booth, ‘classic rock’ blasting through eight speakers, I was doing knee bends and stretching to make sure I tanned the white swaths of flesh huddled under my arms and between my thighs.

That’s when I saw it. Down over the softness of my yes-I’ve-borne-a-child belly, past the brightly reflecting lines of stretch marks descending into my thick, dark pubic hair, was one ghostly white protruding thread. I ran my fingers through my bush to brush it away, but it didn’t fall as I expected it to. I chased the wily sucker around for a minute with my fingertips, then pulled.

Oww. Ugh. It was attached.

I ripped off my goggles – a dangerous maneuver, not to be tried by anyone other than a professional erotica columnist on a serious journalistic mission to reveal the truth. I was dazzled by three hundred sixty degrees of sun-spectrum florescent light bulb banks. When my bare eyes adjusted, they confirmed their bespectacled observation: I had a gray pubic hair.

I grabbed that horrible thing and yanked it out before I could even form the conscious intention to do so. I’m Simply Not The Sort Of Person who would get a gray pubic hair. In fact, to be even more honest, I hadn’t known that anyone DID get gray pubic hair. I didn’t even know if I had gray hair on my head.

Well, that’s not really true. I’d started dyeing the hair on my head years before, when I went through my first divorce. And liked it so much I kept on dyeing, one brighter shade red after another. When I went too long between dye jobs and got into what my daughter calls my ‘skunk’ phase, I could see the glisten of silvery roots. But with regular touch ups I could maintain plausible deniability. Out of sight, out of mind.

This, however, was a shocker. I liked my sleek beaver-black glossy bush. Not that it drew a lot of popular comment. My high school beau wanted me to shave it, and I tried once or twice for his sake (even etching his initial inside a heart long before the Nike swoop shaved on the skulls of skin-headed boys became popular) but it itched like hell. Nobody since had said a word about it.

But I, at least, had always thought that thick shock of gleaming black hair against my fair skin was pretty. And there were days, when I was lost in mid-winter pudge and cookie-dough induced sallow skin, that it was damn near the only part of my body I found attractive. Now it had betrayed me, with this horrible, long, flat, thick, white gray hair. Was this normal? Did it happen to everybody? Dressed and back at home, I did some research. Turns out that our pubes do go gray, on average a few years after the hair on our heads starts doing same. And sometime thereafter, more treats are in store for that lush and lovely nether-region: the hair will thin. The skin will become thinner and dryer. The vulva will shrink, losing the fatty tissue that makes the labia lips so pouty and sweet.

Why had no one told me? They spent all that time in fifth grade telling us about the wacko, disgusting, unimaginable changes that were in store for us (“Hair is going to pop out WHERE? You’re telling us someone is going to stick that... thing... I think I’m going to puke.”) Well, when were they going to get around to telling us that at the far end of this whole puberty adventure came an even ruder awakening?

My next trip to the tanning booth, I bravely looked again. The sight reduced me to tears. While I’d prayed that the offending sprout I’d plucked would be the only one, I found my labia and the area just behind my vagina solid white. Talk about a skunk effect. Something had to be done about this travesty.

I thought about dye. Did some research. Called some salon professionals. All say it’s contra-recommended. Sure, some people do it, taking elaborate steps (such as completely coating all sensitive skin with petroleum jelly before carefully brushing on the dye with a roots-and-highlighter brush) to ensure that the chances of irritation and bad reactions are minimized. If you do your hair dyeing while closeted uninterrupted in the bathroom, this solution might make logical sense. However, pubic hair is thicker and more difficult to dye, and for those of us whose hair dyeing treatments are constantly interrupted by kids looking for bandaids and housemates looking for spray starch and rolls of toilet paper, sitting on the can with your legs spread-eagle propped up on the wall with a crotch full of dye may not be an entirely practical option.

For a while, I determined to ignore it. If no one else was going to say anything, then neither was I. The state of my sex life was such that it did not rise to the top of the pile of daily problems to be solved, between kids and checkbooks and schedules and work.

Then along came a lover, exploding into my life with the force of a sexual tsunami washing over a million-acre desert, drenching every cell of my body with blissful desire. Here was a man who liked to inspect every inch of me with his eyes, fingers, and tongue. I took long looks at myself in the mirror, wondering how to better tease and delight him in repayment of the pleasures he brought me. And every time I looked, a few more of those damned gray hairs were looking back at me, waiting to be caught between my lover’s teeth.

One day a friend called me on her cell phone. She was waiting in a salon lobby while her sister, another friend close to my age, was having her monthly Brazilian wax done, at the request of (and paid for by) her sexy new beau.

Lights went off in my head. If she could do it, so could I. Goodbye gray, and hello serious fashion statement. I grabbed my coat and headed to the store for a home waxing kit. At 40, I was going to look like a Playboy model. Well, at least between the thighs. The rest would need a few more trips to the gym. And maybe a time machine.

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