The Double Standard of “Erotic Tips”

Over the years, Cosmopolitan magazine has built quite a reputation for their not-so-sexy sex tips. Whether it’s demeaning, incorrect, or downright bizarre, women and men alike have called out the lifestyle magazine for the questionable advice Cosmo has given its readers. But here’s the thing: apparently Cosmo doesn’t have the monopoly on WTF sex tips—it has a male counterpart, Men’s Health.

That said, not all sex tips are created equal. The two magazines take vastly different approaches to what constitutes “bedroom advice.” Let’s take a look, shall we?

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These are the type of tips that I assume most ladies are familiar with. Here are three stellar examples of the kinds of things Cosmopolitan thinks that ladies should do to wow their man during oral:

  1. “Many chicks complain that their guy lacks variation in technique. If you don’t want to speak up, physically move your hips, like you’re squirming from all the pleasure. It’ll give him the hint that he should vary his moves.”
  2. “One thing that turns guys on is enthusiasm. In fact, lots of them have a hard time fully enjoying themselves because they worry that their partner hates being down there. Let him know you like it by softly moaning as you take him into your mouth.”
  3. “If your guy doesn’t always dive headfirst between your legs, it’s time to drop a serious hint—Get a Brazilian. Men say landing strips make them want to spend time down there the most.”
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Now, these might be a bit less familiar to a lot of women, but here are a few suggestions from Men’s Health about how to get your lady going (both in the bedroom and in a relationship):

  1. “Stash a photo of her in your wallet. She’ll deny it, but all women rummage at some point. You might as well turn it to your advantage.”
  2. “‘Blooms at the office are overdone. If you want to stand out, send a card instead.“It’s really the thoughtful things you do at nonsexual times that make a woman want you,’ says Paul Joannides, author of Guide to Getting It On! Go with a thank-you. Write out a few things you’ve never thanked her for—making breakfast on Sunday, cleaning your stubble out of the sink. An appreciated woman during the day is an appreciative woman at night.”
  3. “On a dinner date, always position yourself at a 90-degree angle to her rather than straight on. If she sits at the end of the table, sit in the first seat to her left. Turn toward her from the waist, which will give her the opportunity to turn toward you.”
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Okay, so now we have a selection of tips. It’s hard to miss the obvious difference between the two: the ones geared towards women are about her man’s physical pleasure, while the ones for men are designed to (deceptively, at times) target a woman’s emotional needs. In fairness, these aren’t the only types of advice that you find in each publication, but they’re representative of 1) most of them, and 2) a troubling phenomenon in sex and relationships.

Neither magazine is more or less to blame, but together they illustrate damaging and widely held heteronormative stereotypes about how relationships should and do work. The Cosmo tips focus on only the sexual, ignoring the potential emotional needs of a male partner, while the Men’s Health tips focus more on the stereotypically emotional needs of a female partner.

Another troubling aspect is that both, in their own way, paint a troubling power dynamic between romantic partners that places the man in the driver’s seat more often than not. The Cosmopolitan tips tend to focus on the woman sending “hints” about what she wants, rather than speaking honestly with her partner or changing herself to please him, while the Men’s Health advice focuses on (I’m sorry to get dramatic here) tricking a partner into thinking you care. Somehow, these two disparate approaches end up playing on the same condescending stereotypes about the neediness and instability of women and the emotional illiteracy and sex-focused nature of men. Both are toxic ways to approach relationships and other people.

I think that what it boils down to is this: sex tips can be a fun way to spice things up with your partner, but at the end of the day that’s what your significant other should be to you—a partner. They’re not a mystery to solve or a walking archetype of femininity or masculinity, they’re a complex person with motivations and desires that probably match your own more than you realize. Regardless of gender, everyone wants to have good sex and everyone wants to be genuinely emotionally fulfilled. Sometimes outside “sex tips” can help with that, but remember: the best sex tips are the ones that come from your partner.