Column: Better sex requires more than Cosmo’s gimmicks

Sexual dissatisfaction can’t be solved by miracle advice or by women alone.

Sexual egos are fragile.

When we want nothing more than to please our partner or ourselves and we aren’t achieving orgasm or even coming close, we begin to wonder what it is about us that’s wrong. The natural response always seems to be self-doubt. Our outfits must not be sexy enough, we aren’t interesting enough, we aren’t making the right moves.

We all want in on the secrets to good sex, the miracle cures to our insecurities and desires. So it’s no surprise that magazines like Cosmopolitan are able to make their living by selling sex tips and advice wholesale, tapping into our confusion and need for guidance. But digesting sex tips given the Cosmo stamp of approval is no easy feat, particularly when the task of providing pleasure is portrayed as the responsibility of the woman, not the man.

“To achieve sex-goddess status, you truly have to master his man bits,” explains Cosmo. “Think of his shaft … like the outer curve of your breast … Take his shaft between your open palms and tap it back and forth, almost like you’re volleying a tennis ball.”

Almost like you’re volleying a tennis ball but not quite, hopefully. Is that helpful imagery for anyone? Not really for me, so let’s try something different:

“Alternate between swiveling both wrists in opposite directions and stroking your hands upward, twisting your wrists when you reach his head as though you are turning a doorknob.” Again, if you were able to figure out the logistics of this, then fantastic - it should be included in a user’s manual for a penis. But let’s just move on, I’m sure Cosmo has plenty to say about day-to-day play.

Cosmo suggests you “cook dinner topless” and “apply a little tomato sauce on your nipple.” Or if you aren’t a salacious Rachael Ray, just remember that “34 percent of guys say they wish a girl would surprise them with oral when they walk in the door.” What woman isn’t ready and willing to give spontaneous oral at any moment? What woman isn’t cooking dinner every night? Never mind the details of it all (tomato sauce splatters when it’s cooking), any possible way to please a man is worth the effort.

The problem is we often simultaneously acknowledge the ridiculous novelty of Cosmopolitan while still wanting advice when in desperate need of a spark. A small part of us wants the advice to work when we’re unable to come up with anything creative on our own.

But it’s crucial to remember that Cosmopolitan isn’t writing sex advice that will truly “work,” even if it’s well intended. It’s selling advice to make money. And it’s successful in selling the sex “goddess” ideal: that you’re the best on the block with your over-the-top domesticity, your ambush blowjobs and freaky behavior in general. One simply cannot have good sex, but one must be really kinky and theatrical, wild enough for your mate to bring it up to his guy pals at their guy-pal hangouts.

This “pornification” of everyday sex is problematic insofar as it sets a ridiculous standard for what sex should be, while continuing to place female pleasure at the bottom of the totem pole. (One merely has to spend 60 seconds browsing Google to find the rates at which women do not experience orgasm.)

It’s not just up to women to revive mediocre sex – it’s wrong to pretend that male sexual desire is stoic, and that one should only ever submit to it, not confront it head on. Better sex is a two-way ordeal, and Cosmopolitan seems to forget the power of mutual desire.  

But it’s important to remember passion and desire wax and wane, and that whether you’re too tired, too full of Pinot Grigio or just not in the mood, it’s totally fine if you don’t orgasm. It’s nothing about us as people if we can’t get there.

Even divorced from the ridiculous sex tips, we’ll always fantasize about an ideal form of sex, and this fantasy is productive in improving the sex we have. But it’s important to remember our sex is real and isn’t some Cirque du Soleil pyrotechnics show. Unsexy as it might come across, real-world sex is what we’re working with, and it can be just as magical as the sex Cosmo wants to advertise if we approach it with a realistic, pleasure-driven mindset.

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