Skip to main content

Dr. Ruth: Brown told women the truth about sex

By Ruth Westheimer, Special to CNN
updated 8:16 PM EDT, Mon August 13, 2012
Helen Gurley Brown in her New York apartment in 1979. The former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and author of "Sex and the Single Girl" died on Monday, August 13. She was 90. Helen Gurley Brown in her New York apartment in 1979. The former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and author of "Sex and the Single Girl" died on Monday, August 13. She was 90.
HIDE CAPTION
Gurley Brown through the years
Gurley Brown through the years
Gurley Brown through the years
Gurley Brown through the years
Gurley Brown through the years
Gurley Brown through the years
Gurley Brown through the years
Gurley Brown through the years
Gurley Brown through the years
Gurley Brown through the years
Gurley Brown through the years
Gurley Brown through the years
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Dr. Ruth Westheimer says Helen Gurley Brown's Cosmopolitan sex articles were pioneering
  • She says before that, many women didn't know sex should bring pleasure, orgasm
  • She says women's power and prowess in bedroom could translate to the boardroom
  • Dr. Ruth: Brown taught women not just to give others pleasure in sex, but themselves, too

Editor's note: Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a psychosexual therapist, the author of 37 books and a teacher and lecturer. You can find her on Twitter @AskDrRuth, or watch her on You Tube.

(CNN) -- I've been given a lot of credit for opening up the airwaves to frank sexual material, but I doubt without Helen Gurley Brown's pioneering articles in Cosmopolitan that I could have gotten away with as much as I did. Hugh Hefner showed a lot of naked women in Playboy, and the Playboy Advisor did offer some advice on sexual functioning (in between answering questions about cars and stereos, but men weren't having quite the same difficulties finding sexual satisfaction that women were back in the '60s.

The sexual revolution was upon us and young people were having more sex, but that didn't mean young women were having better sex.

Certainly they weren't learning how to have good sex in the few sex ed classes that were around. Discussions about pleasure weren't part of the curriculum, that's for sure. And if most of their friends were as clueless as they were, they weren't learning much from them. (Some women can climax very easily but the majority of women cannot have an orgasm from intercourse alone and it's those women who need to be taught what to do.)

News: Former Cosmo editor Gurley Brown dead at 90

Dr. Ruth Westheimer
Dr. Ruth Westheimer

The men they were dating knew even less about how to please a woman than the women did. So in between the silly quizzes and the puff pieces on fashion and the latest hairstyles, Helen Gurley Brown was sneaking in, at least in the early days, real information about how women could find sexual satisfaction. And the women were lapping it up, which is why eventually the articles about sex made their way onto the cover pages and the titillating titles became a mainstay of the magazine's success. As Cosmo's influence grew, spreading around the world, Helen's crusade to teach women how to fully enjoy sex had a worldwide impact.

Helen is known for having cracked the glass ceiling as editor of Cosmopolitan, but she should be given credit for helping every women in the working world because of the frank way she covered sex in her publication. Thanks to what they were reading in Cosmo, women discovered that they could have sexual satisfaction, but only if they took more control of what was happening during sexual encounters with their male partner. As they learned to ask for what they wanted and needed -- sexual satisfaction in the bedroom -- it wasn't going to be long before they took more control in the boardroom as well.

Video: Helen Gurley Brown: I'm a devout feminist

Knowing that you can control your own body gives you a level of self-confidence that helps in every endeavor. If you are sexually frustrated, if you have doubts about your own body, if you see two people having sex in the movies, as unrealistic as movie sex is, and say to yourself, "Why can't I do that?" then when faced with men at work who put you down and act in an overbearing manner, you'll naturally back down. How can you show strength if you can't even manage something as basic as having sex?

But once a woman discovers how to have great sex, and takes charge and teaches her man what she needs, then the next morning when she's on her way to the office she'll have a lot more confidence in her own abilities and that confidence will help her succeed.

There have been many women throughout history who were good at getting what they wanted by using their bodies. Their sexual wiles earned for them a degree of power that otherwise would have been unattainable. And while possibly some of them were actually enjoying sex, they didn't have to, as women can fake it -- and I'm certain many weren't, at least not with the man they were milking for the better things in life.

What Helen Gurley Brown taught women was how to use their bodies not to give someone else pleasure but to give themselves pleasure, and that is a tremendous contribution for which I thank her on behalf of all the women who are now orgasmic and might never have been without her pioneering efforts.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 1:10 PM EDT, Sat April 19, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT