I hate Cosmo. There, I said it. I am a modern, liberated woman and when I was younger, I thought that Cosmo was what modern, liberated women read. It’s the type of magazine that prides itself on encouraging feminine independence from traditional roles, not like, say, Woman’s Journal or Better Homes and Gardens which push the ideal of competent homemaker above career-focused bread-winner. I should be shamed to my feminist core that I eagerly absorb articles about cooking, cleaning, gardening, and general homebody guidance. I should be offended by the implication that a woman’s primary goal is to have a clean, organized home, and to have healthy, yet delicious and unique meals on the table every evening. And believe me, I try to be offended as I rip out recipes, take notes on the best ways to remove stains, and drool over flawlessly organized pantries. Honest.
Truthfully, I don’t feel a twinge of guilt about my girly magazines, except for Cosmo. What I read in the homemaker magazines tend to be useful or interesting articles that in no way give me the urge to put on a dress and serve my husband a martini when he gets home from work (he pours his own beers => I wouldn’t even know which glass to use, let alone which variety he’s craving from the beer fridge). What I read (used to read, now just flip through) in Cosmo is, well, a load of piss. Horoscopes, quizzes, embarrassing date/sex stories, and sex advice. Lots of sex advice. Lots of bad sex advice. 50 Ways to Make Your Man Want You. 101 Tantalizing Tips to Tease Him. 10 Methods of Convincing Him that You’re Desperate Enough for Attention that He Will Stay More than the Requisite One Night. Okay, it’s really early and I’m writing this with a migraine (which is why I’m awake), but I swear they are the most banal advice columns I have ever seen.
The message I get from Cosmo is that a modern, liberated woman is allowed to have sex with as many partners as she wants, just like men are. We have been freed from the chains of the ignorant Victorian ideals that dictate subservience to our husbands and repression of the natural sexual urges. And yet…I read more sexist BS in that stupid rag than in even the fashion magazines. So maybe the goal for them isn’t woman’s liberation (obviously).
When I flip through Cosmo, I inevitably start writing my own advice in my head. Real, practical advice which I know I will never write down because, well, my mother reads this blog. And it’s all, you know, personal and stuff. But you know, my school paper had a sex advice column for a while. It was unbelievably bad. There was one about favorite positions, all of which sounded like entirely too much work to be real. If even the school paper is giving bad advice, what business do I have withholding my considerable “expertise.” I give in. Here is my advice on how to have a great sex life.
1. Stop calling it a “sex life.” Sex does not define your life. Propagation of the species is a primary instinctive drive, so it makes sense that sex is everywhere. Sex sells because it is nearly the only universal motivator for consumers, making it the easiest impulse to advertise for. However, sex does not equal life, except in the most obvious, biological, ‘oops’ way. My life does not revolve around whether or not I’m getting any. Some might argue that since I am married, either I’m guaranteed to be getting some or I have stopped having sex entirely because married people just don’t do that any more (which is silly). To be honest, though, sex was rarely a motivating factor even before I got married. Oh, sure, hormones were always pushing for dumb decisions, but I never understood the bar/club scene. I should get dressed up in uncomfortable clothes, drink over-priced beverages and try to make conversation over too-loud music with a complete stranger in the hopes that there will be an evening of consensual, amorous relations that don’t end in either embarrassment the next morning or an unfortunate case of VD. Yeah, no. Not interested. Life is too short for that kind of crap. Don’t waste your nights just to appease your hormones, especially when there is no guarantee that there will be any appeasement.
2. Stop having sex with strangers. Yes, experience and good technique come with practice. But what exactly are you practicing with a one-night-stand? Everyone is unique, with their own tastes, etc. Expecting good technique to develop from multiple single interactions is kind of like trying to compose a song by randomly hitting keys on a piano. It might work for modern composers, but so does sitting on stage for 4min 33 sec and not playing a doggone thing. Nothing irritates me more than watching a movie or reading a book where the “first time” is amazing. That simply has not been my experience. That kind of propaganda made me think there was something wrong with me when I first became active because it was painful every time. Where was all that unbelievable experience I had been taught to expect by countless depictions of earth-shattering intercourse? Was Nora Roberts lying to me this whole time? So I resigned myself to bad sex for the rest of my life, which is a surprisingly horrifying thought for someone professing not to be sexually obsessed. Just imagine for a second that the primary motivating force behind most of society is a source of acute physical agony and emotional shame and you will know what my early 20s felt like. And magazines like Cosmo would tell me to talk to my partner, tell him what I wanted because that’s what assertive women do. Well, I didn’t know what I wanted, had no idea how to figure it out, and felt guilty that I wasn’t enjoying it. And my partners (all two of them not including my husband, before you start thinking the worst of me) were not at all concerned about me enjoying it so long as they got their’s. That was my “experience” before I met my future husband. He taught me the most important aspect of a great sex life.
3. Stop being selfish. There are at least two people involved in a positive sexual experience and positive experience involves physical and emotional satisfaction for both parties. Unlike with previous partners, I feel no guilt or shame about having sex with my husband. Procreation is, after all, one of the purposes of marriage (even the Puritans knew that), and while we aren’t actively trying to have children yet, we are certainly practicing our scales, so to speak. It’s more than that, though. I never have to lie to Buddy. And yes, by lie I mean “fake it.” Women fake it all the time, I know I did. Mostly, I think the purpose is to assuage the ego of their partners, or maybe to hurry them along to finishing so said women can get back to whatever they were doing before the inconvenient interruption. This is the stupidest thing. How, pray tell, do you expect your partner to learn anything if you are lying? I suppose that doesn’t matter overmuch if it’s a one-night-stand, but honestly, why are you wasting the learning opportunity? In fact, what is the point of having meaningless sex if you aren’t, at the very least, getting your’s? Having a committed partner (read: not a stranger) means being involved with someone invested in your experience, and not just because your enthusiasm is an aphrodisiac. Lying in the bedroom, where you are most intimate (obviously), is a bad precedent. It can lead not only to lying in other aspects of the relationship, but also to growing resentment between partners. So it is important to communicate with your partner and to listen in return. You don’t need a bag of fancy tricks to keep your partner satisfied. You need expertise, which means paying attention to more than just your needs.
4. Stop frontin’. Sex is the physical expression of love and trust in a relationship. It is when you are the most vulnerable in a relationship, not hidden behind clothes, accessories, or attitude. It is never just sex. If it could ever be just sex, then rape wouldn’t exist. Ah, but rape isn’t about sex, you say. Rape is about power. Exactly my point. If sex didn’t mean anything beyond physical satisfaction, then it could never be used as a weapon. Physical intercourse triggers emotional responses, which science will tell you is all down to hormones and whatnot, but does that really change how you feel? Just because you know the lovey-dovey euphoria is all the fault of chemical do-hickies in your brain, doesn’t mean you can just shut them off. If it’s just sex, why does it hurt when your partner cheats? “I still love you. It’s just sex.” Yeah, that doesn’t fly. I know people who have “open” relationships, and I marvel at the strength of their love, which is the only way I can see such an arrangement working. I know I couldn’t pull that off with Buddy. Eventually, the cops would find the bodies. But for the rest of you, stop trying to cheapen what can be the most intimate experience you can have with another person. We keep insinuating that it is a purely physical experience. If such was the case, then I would have broken it off with Buddy when I PCS’d. Long distance relationships suck and I had been actively trying to keep emotionally distant up to that point because I knew that three months wasn’t enough time to form a strong emotional connection and really we were just fooling around, no harm in it, just trying to recover from some truly horrific relationships. Practically speaking, it could never work. Imagine my surprise when he fought to keep me and we survived 2 1/2 years long distance (me in Alabama, him in Hawaii and Iraq). I don’t recommend the experience to anyone. And yes, I know that all that time we were abstinent, but that again proves my point. If our relationship was just about sex, if sex wasn’t an emotional experience, then we would have crumbled as a couple, eventually seeking other partners to satisfy the purely physical urges. As it was, the distance strengthened our emotional connection, engendered deeper trust, and demonstrated our ability to survive that kind of stress. With that foundation, I found myself in a relationship where I could be completely honest with him and myself, which quite frankly led to better intimacy. It means that I don’t lie to him, like I said before, and that I strive to remember that it is not ever just sex.
5. Stop settling for less. Remember to be responsible and be respectful. Keep in mind that if you aren’t ready to have children, then you probably aren’t ready for sex (and if you think you’re ready for children but you’ve never baby-sat an actual baby, you’re fooling yourself). Say all you want about being careful, but tell that to the countless mothers and fathers who took all the precautions and still had an ‘oops’ moment (my little brother beat three forms of birth control). It’s not just a precaution, though. Having a child is a big responsibility. It’s a commitment to look out for the physical, mental, and emotional health of another human being for up to 18 years, possibly more. When you have sex with someone, you are trusting them not only to help you with that commitment if it occurs, but with your own physical, mental, and emotional health. It’s not simply a readiness to take on the responsibility of a child that is required. It is the maturity to respect the well-being of another person. It is acknowledgement that you can effect that well-being through your actions, even if your only goal is your own pleasure. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and looking back, I don’t think I followed my own advice (my younger self always looks stupid when I think about her). But that’s what I’m going to tell my kids, right after I point them to this blog post. Teaching abstinence is all well and good, but telling kids not to have sex because it’s bad is extremely short-sighted. Kids rebel. It’s what they do, how they establish their individuality. So, kids, if you’re reading this, sex is good. Sex with the person you love, who loves you just as deeply, who cares about you and wants to spend forever with you, is AMAZING. Don’t settle for less. Hold out for amazing.
Well, I think I’ve embarrassed my mother enough for one post. Personally, I regret having multiple partners. I put myself at risk, and not just for STDs or pregnancy. I suffered emotionally. I put my self-worth in the incapable hands of men who didn’t deserve that trust and I paid for that mistake with depression, low self-esteem, and heartbreak. Thankfully, God watched over me, so all I have are emotional scars and an amazing husband to rub in their faces if I ever see them again. But it could have been so much worse. Please, please, put down Cosmo and any other media telling you that sex is all about positions and tricks. It can be the single most complete expression of love and trust between two people. It is not a game. It is not an indication of your maturity or superiority. It is often symptomatic of just the opposite. I’m probably not convincing anyone with this spiel, but sometimes it’s better to get things out of my head. And it might be interesting to look back on this and wonder at how stupid I could be when I was younger.