Sex and the older woman; it’s still all about him.

It’s been many years since the magazine Cosmo has spoken to me. Cosmopolitan Magazine, the ultimate achievement of editor and writer Helen Gurley Brown (Sex and the Single Girl) is aimed at women 18-30 and concentrates on the old fashioned pre-occupation of landing a man. Of course landing a man used to mean getting him to marry you; Brown’s great innovation was to insist that “landing” him simply meant getting him into bed. Setting the bar a lot lower made the chances of success a lot higher.

Fortunately, Gurley-Brown has not forgotten older women like me. Her books offer advice for how to keep a man, once you have landed him. The principle is the same; only the specific tactics need to be modified.

What is the principle? Simply put, sex is all about him. Women exist primarily for the sexual satisfaction of men. Not coincidentally, that is the central premise of pornography. As if the objectification of women in men’s magazines were not bad enough, women’s magazines like Cosmo emphasize the point: Your sexual needs and desires are irrelevant, ladies. What matters about your sexual needs is not their fulfillment, just the effect that your fulfillment has on men’s enjoyment.

Case in point, a typical Cosmo cover featured Total Body Sex, the Naked Quiz, The Trick that Attracts Hot Guys Like Crazy, and, my personal favorite, Your Orgasm Face; What He’s Thinking When He Sees It. Not only are women being judged for sexual attractiveness (evidently the only characteristic of concern), they are being judged on how they look during sex. You might be pretty, you might be thin, you might be well endowed, and that will convince him to take you to bed, but he’s still entitled to judge your performance during sex and finding you lacking. Because, repeat after me, ladies: Sex is all about him.

Gurley-Brown thinks it is important for “older” women to understand that while the principle is the same, the tactics must be modified. In the section Lovemaking for Grown-up Girls (from her book I’m Wild Again), she explains:

When a woman is, say, up to thirty, all she has to do is show up for the lovemaking, cooperate and be adored… When she is fifty, sixty, maybe only forty, the most successful lovemaking is her doing things to him

At that advanced age, sex is all about his penis:

…the stroking, loving, sucking, handling and, most of all, the admiring thereof… [He might] prefer a younger, less puckered up body but hands belonging to that body wouldn’t do the things we can and will do so adroitly…

Thank goodness that women in an advanced state of decrepitude (over 40) have at least one advantage over the younger and less puckered.

Gurley-Brown claims to be a feminist, and perhaps when Sex and the Single Girl was written in 1962, sexual openness passed for feminism. However, it seems to me that Gurley-Brown has confused explicitness with empowerment. She may be willing to discuss sex openly and explicitly, but sex in her mind is still all about men and what she presumes to be their needs.

In the supposedly repressed 1940’s and 1950’s, sex was a wife’s “duty” to her husband in exchange for marriage and economic support. In the early 2000’s sex is still a woman’s duty, though it is no longer rewarded with marriage and economic security, merely the presence of a warm body in bed. That doesn’t sound like progress or feminism to me.

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