Fanning the shame

Lezlie Lowe identifies and solves your problems.

illustration Jesse

How to set his thighs on fire?

Put a match to some flammable material—preferably Kate White’s new book How to Set His Thighs on Fire: 86 Red-Hot Lessons on Love, Life, Men, and (Especially) SEX—and quietly back out of the room as his trousers begin to smoke.

OK, that’s not funny. But neither are the tips in this book. They’re dead serious. After all, White is editor-in-chief at Cosmo. She’s earnest even when she tells women to (Chapter 19) “Chill a bunch of marbles in the fridge. Toss them on the bed and make him lie on them while you straddle him.”

It struck me while I was snickering my way through White’s book (and yes, I read every painful dose of this put-your-boobs-on-a- tray-and-your-brain-on-pause prescription) that it felt an awful lot like I was taking in an etiquette book. I have a few here in my office. The gem is Rose Henniker Heaton’s 1931 beaut The Perfect Hostess.

Etiquette is quite out of style. I keep Heaton’s book around to marvel from time to time at the almost unbearable hauteur of it all. Here’s an example. The proper way to entertain a “poor relation” who’s up from the country for a day: “Arrange the table decoration in the newest way you know…(make it something she can copy inexpensively when she gets home).”

You’re laughing. But there is still a common need among many of us for some higher power to which we can appeal to solve our problems. Etiquette is dead, clearly (When’s the last time you read an etiquette book?).

Enter the cult of the tip.

No longer are women—yes, women—looking for cues from Emily Post on what kind of gloves to wear to a Sunday afternoon tea; they’re on the hunt for tips (preferably five or fewer, with attention spans what they are these days) on how to give good blow jobs. (From Chapter 19: “Take a sip of hot water—as hot as you can stand—before going down on him, and then, keeping your mouth closed, swish it all around his penis.”)

More than tips, women are looking for people like White to tell them when they’re not doing something right in the first place.

White’s reader doesn’t ask her partner if he feels their sex life needs an overhaul. No, no! An outlandish thought! Instead, she reads Chapter 54 (“How to Keep Your Sex Life Red Hot”) and gets the 411 using the checklist there. For example, has it been more than a few weeks since you:

Had sex standing up?

Brought food to bed?

Had sex outside?

Wore really hot lingerie to bed?

Yes? Then according to White you’re probably stuck in a rut. Poor you. Now go on to Chapter 55 (“Think Like a Bitch but Talk as Sweet as Bambi”) and go buy Cosmo and you’ll have exactly what you need to solve all your problems (until the September issue rolls around, and Cosmo tells you the next thing you’re doing wrong).

White’s book, the magazine she helms and the whole culture of female sexuality balled up and squished out into the world like so much Cosmo cover fake cleavage is, at best, frustrating; at worst, a recipe for automatic inadequacy and eventual self-loathing. And don’t forget: White is a best-seller. And Cosmo retails two million copies a month off the newsstands alone.

No wonder women want to set men’s thighs on fire. It’s a marvel they don’t turn to self-immolation first, though, if they believe half the crap in this book.

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