Dr. Ruth Westheimer says Helen Gurley Brown's Cosmopolitan sex articles were pioneering
She says before that, many women didn't know sex should bring pleasure, orgasm
She says women's power and prowess in bedroom could translate to the boardroom
Dr. Ruth: Brown taught women not just to give others pleasure in sex, but themselves, too
I’ve been given a lot of credit for opening up the airwaves to frank sexual material, but I doubt without Helen Gurley Brown’s pioneering articles in Cosmopolitan that I could have gotten away with as much as I did. Hugh Hefner showed a lot of naked women in Playboy, and the Playboy Advisor did offer some advice on sexual functioning (in between answering questions about cars and stereos, but men weren’t having quite the same difficulties finding sexual satisfaction that women were back in the ‘60s.
The sexual revolution was upon us and young people were having more sex, but that didn’t mean young women were having better sex.
Certainly they weren’t learning how to have good sex in the few sex ed classes that were around. Discussions about pleasure weren’t part of the curriculum, that’s for sure. And if most of their friends were as clueless as they were, they weren’t learning much from them. (Some women can climax very easily but the majority of women cannot have an orgasm from intercourse alone and it’s those women who need to be taught what to do.)
The men they were dating knew even less about how to please a woman than the women did. So in between the silly quizzes and the puff pieces on fashion and the latest hairstyles, Helen Gurley Brown was sneaking in, at least in the early days, real information about how women could find sexual satisfaction. And the women were lapping it up, which is why eventually the articles about sex made their way onto the cover pages and the titillating titles became a mainstay of the magazine’s success. As Cosmo’s influence grew, spreading around the world, Helen’s crusade to teach women how to fully enjoy sex had a worldwide impact.
Helen is known for having cracked the glass ceiling as editor of Cosmopolitan, but she should be given credit for helping every women in the working world because of the frank way she covered sex in her publication. Thanks to what they were reading in Cosmo, women discovered that they could have sexual satisfaction, but only if they took more control of what was happening during sexual encounters with their male partner. As they learned to ask for what they wanted and needed – sexual satisfaction in the bedroom – it wasn’t going to be long before they took more control in the boardroom as well.
Knowing that you can control your own body gives you a level of self-confidence that helps in every endeavor. If you are sexually frustrated, if you have doubts about your own body, if you see two people having sex in the movies, as unrealistic as movie sex is, and say to yourself, “Why can’t I do that?” then when faced with men at work who put you down and act in an overbearing manner, you’ll naturally back down. How can you show strength if you can’t even manage something as basic as having sex?
But once a woman discovers how to have great sex, and takes charge and teaches her man what she needs, then the next morning when she’s on her way to the office she’ll have a lot more confidence in her own abilities and that confidence will help her succeed.
There have been many women throughout history who were good at getting what they wanted by using their bodies. Their sexual wiles earned for them a degree of power that otherwise would have been unattainable. And while possibly some of them were actually enjoying sex, they didn’t have to, as women can fake it – and I’m certain many weren’t, at least not with the man they were milking for the better things in life.
What Helen Gurley Brown taught women was how to use their bodies not to give someone else pleasure but to give themselves pleasure, and that is a tremendous contribution for which I thank her on behalf of all the women who are now orgasmic and might never have been without her pioneering efforts.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dr. Ruth Westheimer.