When I started reading this chapter on sex, I thought that I might learn a thing or two, that I might pull out some 1983 tricks, say, on a #throwback Thursday night or, if I was feeling extra sassy, on a #flashback Friday. Sadly, and much to my boyfriend’s disappointment, Helen’s knowledge – while likely cutting edge in her day – is actually a little lacking. Her presentation of this information, however, is what made the lengthy read worthwhile. Where else would I find out that I am supposed to hug with my pelvis, that I have C--- power (her words), and that an orgasm is like telling a lovely host “thank you for a nice dinner.” Some of the advice in this chapter fell squarely into the hilarious pile – that is what I have for you here. The other, which added to the mountain of bizarre and what-the-actual-fuck content will be published next week.
“Sex can be . . . the most sinus-clearing, mind-blowing, intoxicating, illuminating, exhilarating experience in the world, don’t you agree?” Um, I’ll have what she’s having. Hold on to your panties, because useful or not, Helen is going to dish out her special brand of wisdom (the uninformed kind). “Why would one even try to add to the sexual lore we don’t need any more of?” Good question. We already have volumes published on sex, like the Kama Sutra and The Joy of Sex. Having It All will surely sit on the shelf right next to those timeless classics. “Ego! Pure ego. I want you to know my thoughts on this most fascinating of all subjects. I’m not even going to offer hints from other men or women who might know something more than I, because I’m not sure you can mix sex advice. . . No, this sex-sagery is mine.” You should note, right here, right now, that she shares other people’s advice throughout this chapter. I feel as though her editor should have been fired. Who am I kidding, her editor should have been fired chapters ago for allowing Helen to abuse italics as much as she does.
“Bed is where you, a mouseburger, are possibly your most content – as well as you're most accomplished. . . Sexual activity is your oxygen. . . lifegiving, peacemaking – everything, from flirtation to being spread-eagled and ravished all night long and not getting any sleep whatever, is important, never mind that orgasm is also pleasurable. . . Incidentally, you will be sexy until the end of your life; you are a mouseburger! The way to do that is never stop f-----g.” Never stop fucking? Talk about walking like you just got off a horse. Ouch.
I want to be fair to Helen. While I have cherry-picked some of the most horrendous (seriously, there is so much I leave out) of what she has to say, there is actually much debate to this day about whether or not she was a feminist. Trying to find an answer for this while reading Having It All is like watching a tennis match between the Williams sisters on fast-forward, let me show you what I mean.
Here are some seemingly sexually liberated feminist-leaning statements that Helen makes in this chapter:
1. “I have been a faithful married woman for many years now, but am grateful for an active sex life long before marriage, from the time I gave (not lost!) my virginity at age twenty.”
2. “Make your own rules about “promiscuity.” I think enlighten selfishness is a good one!”
3. “. . . sex drives differ, so whatever amount of sex is right for you, go!”
4. “Don’t assume just because you’re having sex with a man that you have to (1) fall in love with him; (2) get into a big emotional dither; (3) marry him!”
Now, serving from across the net, sometimes only a few pages or paragraphs apart are these notes from a less enlightened Helen:
1. “You and I may be semi-nymphomaniacal in terms of feeling more content and appreciated in bed than anywhere else.”
2. “. . . at the time, being “picked” was a particular thrill for me – a breakthrough! All my life men had “respected my mind”. . . Somebody wanted me only for my physical self, oh joy!”
3. “When you are very successful in your job, you may discover, to your horror, that many an attractive man doesn’t think of you as a woman now but as a repository of knowledge and influence. Having been used to being a sex object first, a valued worker second, you will either love this switch or hate it. . . I have always hated it!”
Do you see what I’m getting at? This chapter is so contradictory it’s hard to know if we are meant to be sexually liberated and celebrating it – or that, as a mouseburger, we should be looking to men who sexualize us (oh, happy day!) to find our confidence. Regardless of where your goals lie (and I suppose that at the heart of feminism is our ability to choose our own goals) we will trudge on through the masturbation (which you must hide), the fake orgasms (which are only polite), and the morning after breakfasts (which you must offer him).
Shall we get down to it? “. . . let’s say you’re not climaxing with a man and would like to.”
1. Learn to masturbate alone and get used to the feeling of having orgasms.
2. Change partners. . . Sometimes it is his fault.
3. Have an orgasm with a man any way you can, not necessarily when he’s in you. Bravely try to show him what you want him to do.
A note on going solo from Helen, “if you masturbate instead of making love to a man when you can, you may just have gotten lazy and scared of men.” Netflix and chill with no one talking during the movie? Sign me up! “Men usually don’t like to think about your masturbating – like you should save everything for them. Don’t tell!” However, masturbation apparently comes in quite handy when it comes to faking - “a woman can pretend the “display,” then later, alone, really finish everything (masturbate); nobody has to know at the time you didn’t “make good.”" And faking is just about manners – did I read that in Emily Post once? “. . . an orgasm is a way of saying you enjoyed yourself, even as you compliment a host on a wonderful spinach quiche.”
“If you basically like your breasts, hips, hair, pelvis and tummy, the sap will probably flow and, no other hang-ups pressing, you’ll have an orgasm.” Right, all those mouseburger parts she just spent the last six chapters tearing apart like a starving-Calvin-Klein-wearing wolf. “Your body proportions have nothing whatever to do with orgasm, of course – we know – that. We also know you’re supposed to love yourself even if you’re a toad.” Damn. That’s cold. Ribbit. “Well, one thing that makes me feel desirous and desirable is having a flat stomach. I can’t even have an orgasm if I look down and see my stomach all pooched out.” I’ve been proving that one wrong for years. Sorry, Helen!
“Many women over thirty-five are inclined to slack off sexually because they don’t practice. . . as you go through the years, it is vital that you keep active sexually if you want not to start getting brittle, prissy, gray and defeminized. . . sex with a man is what keeps you womanly. Find someone and keep on.” I’m certainly glad this is also a myth. I’m guessing my boyfriend is too. And apparently, when we get to 40, orgasms go the way of the dodo. Under a subsection called ‘The More Sex You Have, the More You Can “Tolerate” and Will Want’ Helen advises us that “When you get to forty or fifty you may have to “go for the orgasm” at the start of each lovemaking session,” can we just all pause and picture Elmer Fudd hunting rascally orgasms here? “And when you do decide, then be gutsy – ask for what you need (with body language)” – heaven forbid you should verbalize it – “and do yourself what is needed.” Desperate times call for desperate measures ladies. Unfortunately, I can’t yet debunk this myth, but fingers crossed (that it won't be my legs that are)!
Onto the penis (not literally, just yet, of course) – “A delicately rosy, silky-satin, somehow innocent, always-vulnerable erect penis is probably the most fascinating object in the world.” As you may have guessed, Helen really likes the ween. “There is nothing like a big (anything over four inches erect), longing-to-be appreciated, grateful for anything you do to it, show-offy, lovely male penis to bring tears to the eyes and joy to the psyche.” Helen lays down the law, size does matter. Sorry boys. “So what do you do about all this perfection? Admire him, of course. Men are so insecure about their priceless possession.”
So, Helen, exactly how should we express this admiration? “Just touch, pat, caress as you feel moved to do so, sort of like you cuddle and caress a puppy or kitty-cat.” Has anyone read Of Mice and Men lately? “These are admiring things to say to a man: “This is the most beautiful one in the world. . . This is the biggest one in the world. . . This is the most adorable (sensitive, incredible, responsive) on in the world. . . I absolutely worship this penis. . . I can’t go too long without it. . . I’m kind of crazylady about this thing. . . I am wild about your pr---, gorgeous!” I shared these compliments with my boyfriend who was sitting next to me on the couch as I was reading this chapter. He winced uncomfortably and actually asked me to stop. When I offered to put them in context – nudge, nudge, wink, wink – for him later, he begged me not to. This advice may not be as effective as one may hope. But please do try it out and let me if you get different results. Possibly I should have tried it post-shower and not while wearing sweatpants and fluffy slippers.
According to Helen, no man should ever leave your company unsatisfied. “These are the rules: Quietly assume when you begin to make love that you are not going to leave the bed (couch, floor or ceiling) until he has had an orgasm. . . The important thing is not to stop doing something until “it” happens. . . some combination of routines – and just plain patience – will work. Don’t give up.” In fact, she refers to herself as a “sort of “never-fail” machine.” Now I’m asking (and Helen is reading my mind), “Why would a woman be propelled to such “selflessness” – always making sure he is orgasmic? Three reasons: One, usually you like or even love the man. Two, one is always proud of a specialty, whether it’s growing African violets or making your own mustard, and you tend to want to improve that specialty. Three, this skill keeps a man glued to you.” I kill plants. Maybe I should try making my own mustard. So, what do you do when you just can’t get a man to completion – and failing is not an option? “Okay, suppose he is practically turning blue and still nothing has happened. His penis may long since have come out of you and you are now “loving him” manually, but even that isn’t getting results. Then gently take his hand and place it on his own penis and encourage him to masturbate. Keep your hand near him; possibly on his testicles; it isn’t that you have abandoned him, but we all know masturbation is the easiest and most “comfortable” way to achieve a climax. . . If you gently indicate that you want him to do this for himself – that you are fascinated and not unpleased with what is happening – you may just get him to do it and the orgasm will come. One has to decide if this “minor humiliation” for both of you (his achieving orgasm on this own) is worse than his leaving your bed frustrated – I think hardly anything is worse than his leaving your bed frustrated.” After surviving this “minor humiliation” of ‘him’ masturbating in front of us, it makes me ever so grateful that Helen believes women should fake an orgasm, finish privately, out of sight and the lie about it. This all sounds very healthy.
Hopefully, you will never end up in this situation because we are now getting to Helen’s tips (just the tips) on how to go down. Did I say Helen’s tips? “I got these rules form a friend who claims to be “the best in the world.” Remember at the beginning when she explicitly said, “I’m not even going to offer hints from other men or women who might know something more than I, because I’m not sure you can mix sex advice. . . No, this sex-sagery is mine”? Riiiiiight. Steps 1 through 10 are pretty much what you’d expect. Paraphrased, they are; open your mouth, use your hands, don’t bite, use your tongue, it won’t work if he’s not hard. A few points that stood out include; “Put more and more of the penis down your throat.” Why does that make me visualize fireman repelling down a well to rescue a stranded child? “Let some saliva run out.” Mmmmm, just like when I’m sleeping. And don’t forget to swallow, “it’s a sign of affection.” But if you’re not in the mood for showing that much affection, she tells us “. . . men rather enjoy seeing what they produce – it is a kind of achievement. Whatever comes out, admire! His very proud of himself.” And don’t forget the stepchildren, “Some men like you to take their balls into your mouth and suck on those. Just try that and see if he likes this. Again, use your lips, not teeth. You don’t have to choose one ball or the other – they just sort of all mush in together.” Men love it when you mush their balls together. As to where to perform this act, “. . . at his desk while he phones (especially his mother). . . at the dinner table during diet time when he hasn’t had dessert for days (of course I’m serious!).”
Under a subsection titled ‘When Your Man Doesn’t Want You in Bed’ Helen explains that it’s probably because he’s tired after getting it on with other women. Well, that certainly puts my mind at ease, how about you? “Possible explanations: he’s “overcommitted” – he may be “servicing” (oh dear, how equine!) a wife and you, and last night was their night to make love. Perhaps there’s another girl or two in his life and you are his new woman; he may actually have been in bed with one of them just before seeing you, and isn’t now what you could call needy!” But don’t worry, old bra-burning Helen evens the playing field. “I think you can be multifriended. . . It seems to me you can certainly accommodate more than one love if neither is classifiable as the man in your life. . . if you’re in love, you may prefer only one man (though my credo was always that total fidelity is only for the married!).”
Some final down-and-dirty-doing-the-deed-deets “. . . a girl gripped by passion somehow knows what to do with her hands, mouth, toes, knees, etc.!” Am I supposed to be doing something with my knees? As far as I can tell, knees and groins are best kept well apart in the bedroom. At least that seems to be the opinion of most men. Under the header ‘Sometimes Forget Being the Bright, Successful You – Simply Be a Body’ Helen tells us, “Don’t talk too much or show off your brain too much or be too newsy or charming or full of language. Just feel whorish for a change; don’t try for anything else.” Game. Set. Match.
Now, you’ve got all this advice on lockdown, you’re drooling, gagging, and mushing things with your knees while he dials his mother – but what happens when he spends the night? You know what they say freak between the sheets, simply a delight while serving breakfast the next day. . . that’s how it goes, right?
How to Be a Delight the Morning After, When He Stays Over
1. Somehow get the old makeup off – maybe skip out of bed after he is asleep so he won’t see you in it in the morning.
2. When you get up and start moving about, put on something pretty – a peignoir, perhaps.
3. If he wakes first and shakes or touches you, not necessarily to make love, but because he has to leave, try to show a touch of sprightliness.
4. The minute he’s awake and sensible, you must convey that he was wonderful.
5. Never, never convey that you’re sorry.
6. If he wants to continue the sexiness of the night before, okay, but there’s every chance his heart won’t really be in it unless you’re away on a fabulous romantic vacation.
7. It’s best to move the scene away from the bedroom rather soon so he can see you in a different way.
8. Yes, you must offer him breakfast. . . stop figuring that sex, youth and charm are all he’s going to get, or ought to expect from you – a man is affected by your trappings.
9. Do not extract from him a commitment as to when he’ll see you again.
10. Some few men may like making love to a bowl of tapioca, but the affair – if it’s to be that – will probably go better if you don’t seem to have the rest of your life to spend with him in that apartment.
11. Before he leaves, you might want to consider giving him a present. . .
12. Smile when he leaves.
“If you’re spending the night in his apartment, get the hell out the next morning – not abruptly, but don’t have him panicked over what he’s going to do with you.” She makes it sound like he’s murdered you and doesn’t know what to do with the body.
I’m going to wrap up this part one post on Chapter 7, with the subsection titled ‘Never Underestimate C--- Power.’ “I’ve written a lot about how rotten men can be in the next chapter, and they can be, but that’s only part of their sum. Another part (a very wonderful part) is their being almost demented because of what we do to them and with them in bed, because of this special thing between our legs. I’m not talking about somebody a man merely f----s, but the one he adores, the one with the c--- power.” C--- Power? Carb Power? Cash Power? Corn Power? That can’t be it. Ladies, whatever this c--- Power is, it’s apparently not an endless resource, “. . . be prepared to lose some of your c--- power if you marry – some of it, not all (the man will begin to cherish you for other reasons and, my God, first thing you know you’ve got wife power!” I sure hope this C--- power comes with a cape!
In part two on Helen Gurley Brown’s advice for sex as part of Having It All, we will look at How to Say No (spoiler: you don’t), how to have men love you for your brain (spoiler: you don’t want that) and how to be kept by an anti-Semitic old man (spoiler: it wasn’t the money-making endeavour that Helen had hoped for).
Have you missed a chapter on having it all? Click here to catch up!