Sex. Sex. Sex.

It's on southern author Rosemary Daniell's mind, on her lips, on the tip of her pen, in her bathwater. You can tell by the way she dresses: tight skirt, royal blue spike heels, low-cut satiny blouse with a lacy black camisole peeking above the ample cleavage.

Her hair is the color of strawberry Kool-Aid, her lips swabbed with shimmering plum. She is lusty, mischievous, as malleable and doughy as a down comforter. Her voice is low and lilting, sultrier than a Savannah summer night.

Oh Rosemary! Oh temptress! Oh mores!

"Sex is still controversial," she says, looking surprised and picking up her latest tome, "Sleeping With Soldiers: In Search of the Macho Man."

It is a curious, bed-and-tell exercise, written in smug Cosmopolitan-ese. A 258-page diary of Daniell's cross-country, drug- and alcohol-sated sexual encounters with blue-collar, beer-swigging strangers -- rogues, rangers, soldiers of misfortune, roughnecks, oil riggers and barroom romeos.

For a woman who grew up thinking sex was a sin ("I'd go on a date and neck with my boyfriend and then afterward I'd dream about the flames of hell licking around me!"), 49-year-old, thrice-divorced Rosemary Daniell -- who has bedded more men than Sealy Posturepedic -- made up for a lot of lost time.

"I was bad," she says, eyelids a-flutter.

I was indulging in something like raspberries out of season or mussels imported from France, something once enjoyed only by the rich and/or unencumbered: sex without love, sex in the daytime, sex with whomever-I-pleased. And since this period extended over several years, whomever-I-pleased became a considerable list: a potential ritual, a cosy rosary for my old age -- had I only been able to recall them all.

How many lovers has she had? A lady doesn't keep count, she demurs, soft and huggable and plump-cheeked as a Cabbage Patch doll.

"Gosh, I have no idea," she says. "I think the worst thing is when you forget somebody." She is convulsed in giggles. "That was the most disconcerting thing. My daughter and I were in Savannah and I saw this really good-looking guy walking down the sidewalk." Just as she was nudging her daughter, saying how much she would like to meet him, she realized she already had. "I said, 'Oh God, it's Barry.' "

She had slept with him?


A gale of giggles.

Is she sexually aggressive?

"I'm not an athlete," she says. "I consider myself sensuous. I love perfume. I love pink" -- pronounced pee-unk -- "I like to dance. I follow real well. That's how I feel about sex."

And she does not suffer wimps. Quiche-eaters need not apply, although, she insists, "macho men will eat anything."

She likes Action. Danger. Risk. Being dragged by her dark roots into the boudoir by the Marlboro Man.

Later, as I undress, he glances at the rose tattoo, still unfaded from my thigh, without comment, as though he assumes me to be the kind of woman who might permanently wear such a thing, then grabs me around the waist, tugs me to the bed, begins to make love to me in a way consistent with the cruel lines at the corners of his voluptuous mouth.

"I'm not interested in sitting in a gourmet restaurant discussing the right wine for 30 minutes!"

She defines macho as "not the man wearing the gold chains with his shirt open to the navel," but "a person who takes an active and physical approach to life rather than the cerebral, intellectual approach. You know, they're more physically oriented because a lot of them use their bodies in their work."

Daniell's book might be interpreted as a social commentary on the strange mating habits of the lower-class male -- Margaret Mead meets Miller Time -- were it not for the author's naive, myopic vision.

Indeed, "good ole boy" is just another way of saying sociopath. In his worst moments, the macho man really is the insensitive brute he often appears to be. Yes, she says, blue-collar men are better lovers.

"I like a man who makes me feel like a woman," she says, sounding like a vaguely familiar country-western song. "These men definitely do that."

Take, for example, "Jack," a violent, self-centered cretin who would fulfil most romance readers' rape fantasies. When he wasn't grunting and demanding sex, "he constantly told me how beautiful I was. How much he loved me. Even though I knew it was a game, and he knew it was a game. It was a fun game!"

As far as romance goes, many women would find these men selfish boors, concerned only with their own pleasure.

"They do care whether you have orgasms. They go out of their way!" Daniell insists. "Some psychologists recommend people be more selfish in bed. Passion. Intensity. Someone who really wants you. Right at that moment."

She would like to believe she's Scarlett O'Hara, and thinks Goldie Hawn would be the perfect choice to play her in a film version. But it is Blanche du Bois whom Daniell mimics, depending not so much on the kindness of strangers as on their availability.

Live the fantasy. Chanel and a black eye.

"One of the things that has happened since this book came out," she says, sitting in her Washington hotel room the other day, "is that women are coming out of the woodwork and telling me, as though confessing to a secret life, that they too like this kind of man. And while some women avoid them because they think they're not good for them, like too much alcohol or chocolate, they still have an attraction to them."

To understand Daniell's attraction, it helps to know that she was the product of a southern belle who committed suicide and an abusive alcoholic father. She left home at the age of 16 to marry, and was herself a battered wife. She married twice more, bore three children, then finally, after divorcing her third husband -- "an intellectual, passive-aggressive, withholding Jewish prince from Boston" -- she set out on her search for Mr. Wrong. Men of her own class were boring, she found, and dating them was "frustrating." Daniell believes cerebral, intellectual men her own age "all have sexual problems." She never wavers in her ability to blame her partners, although she does concede that "I had been married three times. Obviously there was something wrong with my relationships with men."

Yes, she says, quite frankly her search was for the abusive, alcoholic father who is still, she says, "a shadowy figure in my life" despite years of therapy.

She says his alcoholism was at its height during her adolescence, and that it manifested itself in "sexual jealousy."

"He didn't like me to go out on dates. He would call me a whore and my mother would have to lock him in the bedroom. He'd be screaming drunk. Once he tried to stab me with a butcher's knife."

Her childhood was detailed in the thinly disguised autobiography, "Fatal Flowers: On Sin, Sex, and Suicide in the Deep South," published in 1980. "Soldiers," she says, is the sequel. She got the idea after finishing her first book. The advance had run out, and she was broke. Daniell -- who considers herself a liberated lady -- and a woman friend took jobs swabbing toilets on an offshore oil rig.

"When we went aboard the oil rig, we felt we could never get involved with these kind of men. We really had a supercilious attitude toward them. We considered ourselves better than them," says the college-educated poet, journalist, teacher and recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts grants in literature. "The men were far more appealing than we realized they would be. They had a fabulous sense of humor. That's one of the things about blue-collar workers. Their humor is probably an outlet for a lot of their tension."

Her attempt to take hold of the dragon, to be the predator and not the victim, and separate sex from love was successful. And yet she is still a victim. Perhaps not in the traditional sexual sense, but of her own self-destructive impulses.

"You can do something frightening, and if you do it half a dozen times, then that fear turns to exhilaration. In other words, you really like it."

Yes, she says, there were times when it was dangerous. But she wasn't afraid of Mr. Goodbar. She was Mr. Goodbar.

"I don't think people realize how much fun it was. One thing that really bothers people -- they think you did something they don't let themselves do, and you're not sorry! Some bad thing didn't happen to you!"

The events of the book, she says, took place over a three-year period, and are all true.

But "Sleeping With Soldiers" seems to be ending not with a bang, but a whimper. "Zane," the man she was living with, left her Savannah home several months ago. The reviews for the book have not been universally kind. Says Don O'Bryant, book editor for the Atlanta Constitution, who panned "Soldiers" for its excess, "I was turned off by all the details. I think rednecks are sort of exploited anyway. I had a feeling she was doing that."

And now, as she packs up to fly to New York, an empty miniature of bourbon on the dresser, it all seems so unfair.

"I was just thinking, you know, a woman in a hotel, traveling alone. Traveling, traveling, traveling. If I were a man, I'm sure it could be arranged that I'd have this cute little sex object to come up and see me."

The male photographer, who had been clicking away in silence, mutters good-naturedly, "They figured you'd do it on your own."