Have Better Sex … Tonight?

Shawn Peters, a.k.a. Mis(ter) Communication, wonders who those women’s magazine headlines are talking to.

My wife’s “Women’s Health” magazine was sitting on the counter in the kitchen, and there, among the headlines offering a “Flat Tummy” and the promise of a “Beauty Bonus,” was something a little more eye-catching to anyone with X and/or Y chromosomes. The bold font screamed, “Better Sex… Tonight!”

Really? Tonight? Don’t tease me here. I am a married father of two who has been with the same woman for more than 20 years and the very notion of something like that happening tonight can result in Pavlovian responses I’m not proud of.

Now, even though this magazine was not published for me if its name were to be believed—I’m proud to be the kind of husband who shows interest in his woman’s health, but it isn’t so prevalent a concern that I’d subscribe myself—the publishers had my full attention. So I thumbed through the pages to read the article that had spawned this head-turning headline and be prepared should Sara, the aforementioned wife, want to discuss it at some point in the near future. Maybe even “tonight.” That’s when I discovered the article was written by Rachel Grumman Bender, an old high school friend of mine. Not only was this an outrageous coincidence, it also afforded me a perfectly legitimate reason for why I was going to broach the article’s subject matter with the wife.

Fast-forward several hours to that evening. The kids were in bed and Sara and I were alone our room when I mentioned to her about the mind-blowing coincidence of my former schoolmate’s writing being in her periodical. “Which article?” she asked, following the script I’d written in my head. It was all going so well.

“You know, the one about having better sex… tonight.” I grinned goofily. Sara smiled pleasantly. Then she remarked about what a small world it was and went into the bathroom to brush her teeth, which boggled my mind, since I didn’t remember there being any headlines about women’s dental health on the magazine cover.  I followed her into the bathroom and stayed on-topic. “Did you read it?” I asked Sara loudly above the hum of her electric toothbrush, and she admitted she hadn’t… yet. Now my libido took a back seat and my curiosity drove the bus. “Oh… so, do you usually read the articles about sex in your magazines?” Sara raised her eyebrows and replied. “I skim them.”

Game. Set. Match. No man is ever going to get anywhere by criticizing his wife’s reading comprehension strategies.

But the entire episode kept nagging at me, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that every women’s magazine, from Cosmo to Redbook, seems to have at least one R-rated headline touting everything from “10 Ways to Drive Him Wild” to “Get In a Sexy Mood Instantly” to “The One Bedroom Trick That Will Have Your Man Barking Like a Hungry Schnauser.” Yet in nearly two decades as an adult male, I’ve never seen a co-worker, cousin, teammate or pal walking around with a wide grin across his face and a swagger in his step, boasting, “You won’t believe what a magazine told my wife/girlfriend to do last night.” Not once! Is it possible that these articles, or more importantly, the headlines that tout them, are really not for women at all? Could they be marketing ploys to draw in male readers, or worse, is it some kind of patriarchal double-cross, trying to get men to encourage the women in their lives to subscribe… as if they need permission?

I had to get an answer, so I reached out to my old friend Rachel via Facebook and asked her point blank. Turns out she’s a former editor for Cosmo who now freelances for a wide range of magazines and sites for women, and her answers confirmed my suspicions.

According to Rachel, “Headlines are there to catch the eye of the woman—that is the target audience of women’s magazines—but the grabby headlines also manage to catch the eyes of men as well.”

Men’s magazines offer no such pan-gender common ground. Most of them appear to do everything they can to be off-putting to women who are in monogamous relationships, going as far as publishing yearly swimsuit editions lest a woman think her hubby is merely a sports fan. It’s a clear divide. Clean. Obvious. We, as a gender, like it this way.  But we do not like being duped, and now, every time I see Sara trying a workout or fashion tip she got from one of her monthly mags, I’ll be wondering why some of her magazine content gets a real-world test drive while others don’t. So I asked Rachel about the articles themselves and whether women really read and use them in their relationships.

She admitted, “I don’t have a specific anecdote to give you, as in ‘my friend Jane tried the reverse cowgirl position illustrated on page 32’, but yes, I’ve had friends mention that they have tried or wanted to try something in Cosmo’s Karma Sutra. There’s also the huge draw of reading about something to find out if what you’re going through is ‘normal’—especially when it comes to sex and women’s bodies”

Of course, that led me to question how most men would react to brand new tricks after years, or in my case, decades, with the same partner. Would it result in satisfaction… or suspicion? After all, it’s one thing to unveil a new recipe at dinner. It’s another thing to trot out a whole different spice rack in the sack. Rachel advised me, and any other man, to go with the flow and enjoy it. “If your partner’s behavior is so out of character, gently and warmly asking, ‘What’s going on?’ and giving an example (such as ‘you’ve never done that before’) is a good way to suss out what’s behind the change. Either way, open communication is key.”

So on a personal level, I’ve decided to follow the expert’s advice and be more open in my communication with Sara. When she has a magazine with a sexy article, I will read it and then leave it “open” on the back of the toilet so she has time to do more than skim it. And if it works… well, now that would be headline-worthy.

—Photo jessica mullen/Flickr

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About Shawn Peters

Shawn Peters is a creative director for Viewpoint Creative , as well as a writer whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine and on ESPN.com. His upcoming novel “Plan.Be.” will be published as soon as he sells the damn thing. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnTweeters.

Comments

  1. “She admitted, “I don’t have a specific anecdote to give you, as in ‘my friend Jane tried the reverse cowgirl position illustrated on page 32’, but yes, I’ve had friends mention that they have tried or wanted to try something in Cosmo’s Karma Sutra. There’s also the huge draw of reading about something to find out if what you’re going through is ‘normal’—especially when it comes to sex and women’s bodies””

    Lord. Someone had to see ‘reverse cowgirl’ in a magazine to try it?

    • It was a “for instance” I’m sure. But I’m also certain that no matter what a person considers racy, adventuresome or even progressive… someone else considers it “the usual Tuesday night.”

  2. Great article! I suppose magazines are all about aspirational goals…your fantasy life if you were 17 lbs. lighter, blonder, with whiter teeth and a harem of guys who look like Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender around you….It’s a fantasy!

    I once gave my younger brother a copy of Men’s Health when he told me he was diagnosed with hypertension….he was a little dismissive with all the advice (I guess he was still in denial), especially the sexual strategy advice (his comment was somewhere along the lines of “My wife and I too mature in our relationship to even bother with sex…so this is utterly ridiculous…”)…oh well….!

    • I’m pretty sure Cosmo’s target audience is not women who’ve been married for twenty years… unless it’s cleverly playing up to a delusion among married women in their 40s that they’re still young, slim, and sexually desirable to anyone but their husbands.

      • Julie Gillis says:

        Nice, Copyleft. And I might add the same would go for the husbands in their 40’s if we are playing that game. People can be desirable at varying ages. All depends on who is desiring them.

        • And I’d argue that a headline like “Have Better Sex Tonight” appeals to everyone, regardless of age or gender, because it’s inherently relative to whoever reads it.

          Short of being a person who is consistently having the “best” sex you can imagine, who doesn’t want to have better sex… and if possible… tonight?

  3. wellokaythen says:

    You’re not obligated to give details, but in general terms how far did the conversation about sex go with your wife? It sounds like you came from a great distance to broach the subject of having sex that night in a very indirect way. Perhaps sex would be more likely if both of you could make time to actually talk about sex face to face. If it takes an indirect, inanimate third party (an open magazine) to make it happen, your chances are pretty low, in my experience. Are you afraid to broach the subject of sex directly?

    One obvious flaw I see: the top of the toilet is not a good place to stimulate the libido (except among the women that Jackie dates. See elsewhere in the GMP.)

    The central point is very well taken: popular magazines can have a complex audience, and the headlines often don’t quite match the article content. (This website would be another great example of that.) It’s absurd to think that grown women in a sexual relationship have absolutely no idea how to turn on a man. If it takes a mainstream magazine to tell you, there are bigger problems in your relationship. In most cases, just tell him you’ve been reading up on how to make sex better, and you’ll activate the launch sequence.

    It’s great that you encourage your wife to explore ways of being as healthy as possible. That will usually help your sex life. I commend you for looking in her magazine only because you’re being supportive. I would be looking at her magazines because of the photos of fit young women in tight clothing in active poses and all the references to having sex. You must be more enlightened than I am.

  4. Well, I’ve always thought the sex articles in women’s magazines were for men, not women. Thye are mostly about how to get a man off. But the men’s magazines are more concerned with t&a and how to get a woman into bed, some of them even suggest lying.

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