With the death of Helen Gurley Brown last week, the world lost one of the pioneers of the very notion that women enjoy sex. Cosmopolitan editor and author of Sex and the Single Girl in 1962, Brown promoted the idea that sex wasn't just a married woman's duty, but something for all women to get stuck in to. Under her editorship, Cosmo was re-invented as a have-it-all manual, brimming with career tips, fashion forecasts – and plenty of advice on how to get satisfaction in the sack.
So far, so revolutionary. But Brown also saw sex as a means to an end. Sure, single girls were entitled to steamy fun, but sex was often promoted as a tool for getting what you want, be that a promotion or (surprise, surprise) the perfect husband. Brown might have been writing on the cusp of the feminist movement, but her advocating of using your sexy, feminine wiles in order to trap a man seems like the idea that's really stuck around in the women's press.
A quick look at today's glossy magazines suggests that the advice – "50 kinky sex moves", "75 sex moves men crave", "78 ways to turn him on" – has become more explicit, lengthier and, frankly, loopier (you do what exactly with an ice cube?) than in Cosmopolitan's early days. And it's had to: publishers now realise that the thing to keep readers returning is the lure of newer, better, hotter tips, or the promise of a revelatory move to transform you into a sex goddess.
But depressingly it is still, usually, about how to turn him on, how to drive him wild, how to impress him with your, erm, corkscrew tongue technique. Women's magazines, alongside TV shows such as Sex and the City, may have helped create the empowered independent single lady who can have sex with whom she likes, when she likes, as kinkily as she likes – and hurrah for that. But they also still assume that the romantic end game is pleasing your man, shagging him into submission so you get the big frock and a special day. Sex tips for girls? Well, sort of.