How Well Does Sex and The Single Girl's Sex Advice Hold Up?

How applicable is Helen Gurley Brown's influential tome today?

by Alisa MacKay

The late Helen Gurley Brown lived like Peggy, but she plotted like Joan. When she wrote Sex and the Single Girl, she was in her forties, and had been married for years. But that didn't stop her from crafting a book that helped rewrite the Old-Maid-at-Twenty-Three world of being a single lady in the 1960s. The book's influence is immeasurable, but how relevant is it at this point? Can you modernize the language and be left with some solid advice, or does Sex and the Single Girl best live on as a footnote in Brown's career? Read on.

• Chapter 1: Women Alone? Oh Come Now!: "Theoretically a ‘nice' single woman has no sex life. What nonsense! She has a better sex life than most of her married friends. Her choice of partners is endless."

Beyoncé wrote a song about it. Almost every girl I know in New York is... it. "Single" is not a thing to be lamented or pitied. Hell, it should maybe even be celebrated. Brown was ahead of her time in her assessment of single people (or, as I like to say, "people") and in knowing that being single has just as much value and potential for growth as being in one of them — whatchimacallums — relationships. That said, the book eventually starts to make it seem like being single is just a means to the end of not being single, and that's not exactly progressive. 

• Chapter 2. The Availables: The Men in Your Life

Brown suggests categorizing your potential bedmates like some kind of slutty anthropologist who I want to get drinks with. It's not a bad idea, actually, to assess your potentials on a scale of dateablity, but that outlook set up eventual Cosmo inanities like "The Hot Sex Prospect," "The Career Booster," and "The Ex-Boyfriend Who's Still Around." This kind of labeling simplifies things, but maybe you don't want to go around sharing your bed with a category.

• Chapter 3: Where to Meet Them

Largely a chapter about flirting, this one argues — progressively — that women pursuing men is a-okay. It's good to be straightforward, to approach someone, and to learn how to handle rejection... then move on. Bravo.

• Chapter 4. How to Be Sexy

Brown's definition of a sexy woman was, quite simply, a "woman who enjoys sex." I think that holds up pretty well. To her, enjoying sex was a holistic pursuit: get to know yourself sexually, develop confidence with all of the parts of your personality (not just the sexy ones), and take care of yourself. Nice work if you can get it.

• Chapter 5. Nine to Five: "Mother Brown's Twelve Rules for Squirming, Worming, Inching, and Pinching Your Way to the Top."

Ew, but, wormy language aside, Brown's best note from this chapter is this: get a job. And that's a fair point. It feels good to do stuff for yourself. Like pay rent. And buy food.

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