Sex tips for boys

Female sex columnists spice up men's magazines with sex tips


James Poniewozik
January 22, 1998 1:00AM (UTC)

Just between you and me, Bridget Fonda has got a major woody for yours truly. Yeah, go ahead, laugh, but you can tell -- the way she eyes me on the cover of Details (February), nibbling the tip of her thumb to hold back that riptide of lust. Liz Phair? Fuggedaboudit. New husband or not, she's all splayed legs on page 83 -- don't tell me she doesn't want to be my blow job queen. As for Ann Magnuson, well, I've got three words for you. One. Woman. Show.

Filled with testimonials, interviews and advice from some of entertainment's coolest hotties, the Details' "Women on Top" issue promises the 411 on "What They Think About Love, Sex ... and You." But the real turn-on for readers, as in the entire burgeoning genre of women's sexual confession for men, is the black-and-white evidence that They Think About Love, Sex and Me. And headlining Details' pajama party is the self-proclaimed sexplorateur behind the genre, Anka Radakovich, author, screenwriter and erstwhile pioneer sex columnist for the young-men's mag, whose "second coming!" is splashed yellow-on-black on the cover.

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Anka returns to the magazine that launched her after a year's hiatus in L.A., having sold a screenplay based on her Details sexual-adventure pieces to Paramount. Like Austin Powers in a tube top, Anka emerges from her sun-kissed suspended animation into a mass-literature world transformed by the very wave of liberation she helped popularize. For where Anka's wisecracking, tough-enough-for-the-guys tales of dungeon crawling and condom testing were once the exception, today a sex chick is as mandatory an accessory for a book seeking young male readers as a guy writing on mixology.

This trend mirrors the rise of the magazine service section, wherein the completist '90s man can learn to luge, grill a tuna steak and ointment-rub his way to home plate all inside 15 minutes. Rather than compete to nail more chicks than one another, that is, we now compete to nail them better, which you might call pathetic progress, but then again, ask the nailee.

And boy, are we asking! Indeed, we've come so far from the velvet-lapeled father figure of the '50s swinger magazine that the voice of sex in men's mags is almost exclusively female. Witness the inexhaustible tales of post-dorm bed-hopping in Swing; Allison Glock's "Ask Dr. Sooth" column in GQ; and Anka's Details heir, Sarah Miller, who built her own following with articles like "The Twelve Lays of Christmas" (December) before being nudged aside in the current issue for the first-stringer's return (Miller's relegated to reporting on a sex-in-the-workplace survey here).

Anka's reprise is a whirlwind diary of a week in L.A.: parties, porn studios and plastic-surgery emporia, full of raunchy wordplay (an incident where a man in a Mercedes strokes his penis at her is a "carjacking"), graphic gross-outs and equal parts bravado and self-deprecation (bumping into Conan O'Brien at a drugstore, "I tried to hide my unglamorous purchases: Odor Eaters, heavy-flow maxi-pads, Gas-X, and Anusol"). Reviewers of Anka's books have called her superficial, and it's true that she goes for the easy gag over analysis (one year later, and penis nicknames -- "his pepperoni," "his 'Oscar,'" "his 'big production'" -- are still a laff factory). But for all its juvenility, her literary crotch-grabbing has a serious if unintentional subtext: that sex is both a good time and an atavistic struggle.

Of course, whether getting the story from the horse's boudoir has enlightened many of her readers is another story. More likely they just dig the eternal teenage frisson of realizing that somewhere out there is an Actual Live Woman Doing It. Anka illustrates this indirectly, in fact, when she writes about meeting a 29-year-old indie producer who has had a crush on her for two years: After 20 minutes at her place, he unzips and begs her to kiss it.

True, judging writers by their readers' dimwittedness can devolve into clueless feminism-by-the-numbers -- like deciding the artistic merits of "Deconstructing Harry" on the basis of how many skeevy 60-year-old men get off on watching Woody tongue-wrestle Elisabeth Shue. But it's also true that, at worst, women-on-men features are little more than stroke aids. Take the round table of five women who enjoy watching porn videos in Maxim (January-February): No one's learning much about the nuances of the ballet heterosexuale by reading that "Melissa, 32, a real-estate broker, gets turned on by watching aggressive sex" ("We couldn't tear our eyes away; we just pretended to be grossed out"). But it probably does make it a lot easier to fantasize the uptight chick in Human Resources going home and partying to a Tiffany Towers video.

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But then I'm hurling my righteous thunderbolts from a mountaintop home to not one but two sex columnists. And it's not like I've never scored clicks below the belt: When my editor congratulated me on the number of hits on my second article, should I have credited my incisive analysis of the fragmentation of fin-de-sihcle masculine identity -- or the word Gazongas in the headline?

And it's not just we hacks who have learned from Anka: Read any starlet interview nowadays and you'll see how Hollywood's comeliest have learned the PR benefits of locker-room entree. Here's Famke Janssen in Maxim on how to please her in bed: "Don't fart." Fonda, in Details, gamely concedes that she'd blow Moammar Gadhafi to save somebody's leg. Meanwhile, Minnie Driver is winning America's heart by delivering an oral-sex joke in "Good Will Hunting," and in GQ (January) and Vanity Fair (February) respectively, she and Claire Danes eerily tell the same Mickey-and-Minnie-Mouse joke (punch line: "I didn't say she's silly, I said she's fucking Goofy!"; Driver nails it, by the way, while Danes could work on her delivery).

Still, if I'll-show-you-mine lit hasn't exactly brought back the age of glamour, you have to give it credit for busting double standards and sexual canards: the vaginal orgasm, for instance, has been laid to rest in even the manliest of magazine tree forts, and Anka and the Ankettes deserve no small thanks. The question is whether this pendulum swing means a change in the sexual dialogue or just an exchange of one monologue for another. For while heterosexual men are hardly shut out of sex writing -- fitness mags are full of Tool-Time-style step-by-steps on foot massage and groin-exercising your way to an on-time ejaculation -- good luck finding a straight man writing about his sexuality as something more complicated, holistic or, dare-I-say-it pleasurable than developing a fine chip shot.

That women (and the occasional gay man, like Dan Savage) are now the dominant voice of sex is only fair, after years of priapparazzi jawboning dating back to Henry Miller and before, but that doesn't make it an improvement. For hetero men to take themselves out of this conversation -- to classify sex literature, essentially, as women's work -- is to take themselves off the hook. We're just a bunch of well-meaning chuckleheads, men seem to be saying, draw us into your warm bosoms and gently tutor us; give us a few decades, and we'll learn to pull our weight in the sack. Meanwhile, tell us that one again about you, the dominatrix and the male hooker!

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Granted, our shutting up long enough even to listen to that is a small miracle. In the end, though, it won't be the size of the miracle that counts, but what we do with it.

Act Now and We'll Throw In This Stylish Nylon Tote: The true coup beneath Esquire's attention-getting O.J. Simpson cover (February) is not Celia Farber's hard-earned access to America's most wanted cipher. Nor is it her rendering of Simpson's post-trial life, which doesn't so much expose or illuminate his psyche as wonder whether he has one anymore -- or whether it's been replaced by a constructed, disconnected persona and a CD changer of canned defenses (e.g., "We got physical on one or two occasions"). It's not even Simpson's discomfiting rationalization, which Farber makes the story's linchpin: "Even if I did [commit the murder], it would have to have been because I loved her very much, right?" No, the transcendent moment, tens of pages later in an advertising supplement on Italian fashion, is perhaps the greatest tie-in of the century: a full-page ad for Bruno Magli.

Curiously, the serrated cutlery ads are still missing.

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James Poniewozik

James Poniewozik is a Time magazine columnist on TV and media.

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