Book Club, 1st edition: Sex and the Single Girl!

It’s 2012, so why am I writing about a 1962 book that calls itself “the unmarried woman’s guide to men”? Because I still think it’s one of the greatest things around!

Brown, Helen Gurley. Sex and the Single Girl. Pocket Books of Canada, Ltd; Montreal. 1962.

When author, and famed Cosmopolitan magazine editor, Helen Gurley Brown died in August at the age of 90, my immediate reaction was to dig up my old copy of Sex and the Single Girl. I was never a huge fan of Cosmo, except during a brief period in my early 20s, but both the book and the magazine were important in that they reflected, and maybe even shaped, changing attitudes toward women and sex.

“The sensational best seller that torpedoes the myth that a girl must be married to enjoy a satisfying life”

Now, let’s get this out of the way — Gurley Brown was a bit of a kook. Her obsession with staying radically thin, along with her legendary cheapness, were so extreme as to be off-putting. But then, great people seem to be able to get away with such eccentricities; I just shake my head and keep reading.

The premise of Sex and the Single Girl is very personal; Gurley Brown starts by explaining that she’s never been a great beauty (she calls herself a “mouseburger”!) but that she has managed to have a successful career, exciting affairs, and get married, at the relatively late age of 37, to a man she loves. The book is not just full of advice about how to be attractive to men, how to enjoy men, and what kind of men to seduce, it’s also a very practical guide on how to be financially independent. Helen Gurley Brown grew up very poor and had to send money home to help her mother and sister make ends meet (probably the cause of her continued penny-pinching even after all her success). She made herself into a sort of real-life Peggy from Mad Men by working her way up in the advertising industry, and her advice covers everything from how to invest your money to whether you should sleep with your boss (you shouldn’t)!

Helen Gurley Brown (Photograph by Ron Galella/Wire Image)

Sex and the Single Girl was published the year before Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The latter is said to have contributed to the start of the 1970s women’s liberation movement by shedding light on the desperate lives led by quietly unfulfilled middle-class wives in the home. It’s an IMPORTANT book. But Sex and the Single Girl is a much more fun and scrappy book! Gurley Brown had no choice but to work and she didn’t need anyone telling her it was okay to enjoy her life by remaining single long after society’s cut-off period for spinsterhood.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

Although many’s the time I was sure I would die alone in my spinster’s bed, I could never bring myself to marry just to get married. If I had, I would have missed a great deal of misery along the way, no doubt, but also a great deal of fun.
I think marriage is insurance for the worst years of your life. During your best years you don’t need a husband. You do need a man of course every step of the way, and they are often cheaper emotionally and a lot more fun by the dozen. (p.2)

You must develop style. Every girl has one… it’s just a case of getting it out in the open, caring for it and feeding it like an orchid until it leafs out. (p.7)

If you adore your job, men or no men, stay. Getting lost in your work, getting raises, getting recognition — these are some of the all-time thrills. They are particularly available to single girls who haven’t houses, meals on time and the business of dropping off nine pounds of weekly laundry to distract them. (p.31)

Have you got it? Can you get it? Are you sexy? Let’s see.
What is a sexy woman?
Very simple. She is a woman who enjoys sex. (p.58)

To sum up. One way to be sexy is to be sexy inside yourself. You will attract like a magnet. We are not talking about men to marry you but men… as many as you want in this capacity. (p.65)

Men just think they don’t like make-up!
If you listened to them, your lashes would be flaxen, your lips waxen, your skin Albino No.2. And then — bing! — they’d be off chasing the first beautifully made-up girl who came along. Don’t you honestly think you know more than they do by now about how to look nice? (p.191-2)

Suppose You Like Girls
You’ve already worked out a way of life for yourself to which I could contribute no helpful advice. I’m sure your problems are many. I don’t know about your pleasures. At any rate, it’s your business and I think it’s a shame you have to be so surreptitious about your choice of a way of life. (p.215)

… you might remember that sex was here a long time before marriage. Your inherited your proclivity for it. It isn’t some random piece of mischief you dreamed up because you’re a bad, wicked girl. (p.237)

You may marry or you may not. In today’s world that is no longer the big question for women. Those who glom on to men so that they can collapse with relief, spend the rest of their days shining up their status symbol and figure they never have to reach, stretch, learn, grow, face dragons or make a living again are the ones to be pitied. They, in my opinion, are the unfulfilled ones. (p.246)

While the advice in Sex and the Single Girl can seem very outdated (it is 50 years old, after all), bits of it still surprise me with their relevance! Why, a gal in her 30s, such as myself, does still like to hear sometimes that her life choices are valid… That she shouldn’t lower her standards and marry the first schmuck that comes along… That following her passions, whether or not they lead to grand disasters, is much more fulfilling than being shy and safe.


  1. Forced to order the 2003 ed. of this for my Library ~there had better be a 2012 reissue!


  1. […] an original thought to share, but the fact is that Helen Gurley Brown said it best in 1962′s Sex and the Single Girl: a sexy woman is a woman who enjoys sex. That’s right. For all the primping, waxing, high […]

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