Sex and the Single Girl: The Unmarried Woman's Guide to Men

Sex and the Single Girl: The Unmarried Woman's Guide to Men

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by Helen Gurley Brown

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The trailblazing book that jump-started the sexual revolutionHelen Gurley Brown, the iconic editor in chief of Cosmopolitan for thirty-two years, is considered one of the most influential figures of Second Wave feminism. Her first book sold millions of copies, became a cultural phenomenon, and ushered in a whole new way of thinking about work, men, and


The trailblazing book that jump-started the sexual revolutionHelen Gurley Brown, the iconic editor in chief of Cosmopolitan for thirty-two years, is considered one of the most influential figures of Second Wave feminism. Her first book sold millions of copies, became a cultural phenomenon, and ushered in a whole new way of thinking about work, men, and life. Feisty, fun, and totally frank, Sex and the Single Girl offers advice to unmarried women that is as relevant today as it was when it burst onto the scene in the 1960s. This spirited manifesto puts women—and what they want—first. It captures the exuberance, optimism, and independence that have influenced the lives of so many contemporary American women.

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Sex and the Single Girl

By Helen Gurley Brown


Copyright © 1962 Helen Gurley Brown
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-5584-1



I married for the first time at thirty-seven. I got the man I wanted. It could be construed as something of a miracle considering how old I was and how eligible he was.

David is a motion picture producer, forty-four, brainy, charming and sexy. He was sought after by many a Hollywood starlet as well as some less flamboyant but more deadly types. And I got him! We have two Mercedes-Benzes, one hundred acres of virgin forest near San Francisco, a Mediterranean house overlooking the Pacific, a full-time maid and a good life.

I am not beautiful, or even pretty. I once had the world's worst case of acne. I am not bosomy or brilliant. I grew up in a small town. I didn't go to college. My family was, and is, desperately poor and I have always helped support them. I'm an introvert and I am sometimes mean and cranky.

But I don't think it's a miracle that I married my husband.

I think I deserved him! For seventeen years I worked hard to become the kind of woman who might interest him. And when he finally walked into my life I was just worldly enough, relaxed enough, financially secure enough (for I also worked hard at my job) and adorned with enough glitter to attract him. He wouldn't have looked at me when I was twenty, and I wouldn't have known what to do with him.

There is a tidal wave of misinformation these days about how many more marriageable women there are than men (that part is true enough) and how tough is the plight of the single woman—spinster, widow, divorcee.

I think a single woman's biggest problem is coping with the people who are trying to marry her off! She is so driven by herself and her well-meaning but addlepated friends to become married that her whole existence seems to be an apology for not being married. Finding him is all she can think about or talk about when (a) she may not be psychologically ready for marriage; (b) there is no available husband for every girl at the time she wants one; and (c) her years as a single woman can be too rewarding to rush out of.

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.

I believe that as many women over thirty marry out of fear of being alone someday—not necessarily now but some day—as for love of or compatibility with a particular man. The plan seems to be to get someone while the getting's good and by the time you lose your looks he'll be too securely glued to you to get away.

Isn't it silly? A man can leave a woman at fifty (though it may cost him some dough) as surely as you can leave dishes in the sink. He can leave any time before then too, and so may you leave him when you find your football hero developing into the town drunk. Then you have it all to do over again as if you hadn't gobbled him up in girlish haste.

How much saner and sweeter to marry when you have both jelled. And how much safer to marry with part of the play out of his system and yours. It takes guts. It can be lonely out there out of step with the rest of the folks. And you may not find somebody later. But since you're not finding somebody sooner as things stand, wouldn't it be better to stop driving … to stop fretting … to start recognizing what you have now?

As for marrying to have children, you can have babies until you're forty or older. And if you happen to die before they are forty, at least you haven't lingered into their middle age to be a doddering old bore. You also avoid those tiresome years as an unpaid baby sitter.

Frankly, the magazines and their marriage statistics give me a royal pain.

There is a more important truth that magazines never deal with, that single women are too brainwashed to figure out, that married women know but won't admit, that married men and single men endorse in a body, and that is that the single woman, far from being a creature to be pitied and patronized, is emerging as the newest glamour girl of our times.

She is engaging because she lives by her wits. She supports herself. She has had to sharpen her personality and mental resources to a glitter in order to survive in a competitive world and the sharpening looks good. Economically she is a dream. She is not a parasite, a dependent, a scrounger, a sponger or a bum. She is a giver, not a taker, a winner and not a loser.

Why else is she attractive? Because she isn't married, that's why! She is free to be The Girl in a man's life or at least his vision of The Girl, whether he is married or single himself.

When a man thinks of a married woman, no matter how lovely she is, he must inevitably picture her greeting her husband at the door with a martini or warmer welcome, fixing little children's lunches or scrubbing them down because they've fallen into a mudhole. She is somebody else's wife and somebody else's mother.

When a man thinks of a single woman, he pictures her alone in her apartment, smooth legs sheathed in pink silk Capri pants, lying tantalizingly among dozens of satin cushions, trying to read but not very successfully, for he is in that room—filling her thoughts, her dreams, her life.

Why else is a single woman attractive? She has more time and often more money to spend on herself. She has the extra twenty minutes to exercise every day, an hour to make up her face for their date. She has all day Saturday to whip up a silly, wonderful cotton brocade tea coat to entertain him in next day or hours to find it at a bargain sale.

Besides making herself physically more inviting, she has the freedom to furnish her mind. She can read Proust, learn Spanish, study Time, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal.

Most importantly, a single woman, even if she is a file clerk, moves in the world of men. She knows their language—the language of retailing, advertising, motion pictures, exporting, shipbuilding. Her world is a far more colorful world than the one of P.T.A., Dr. Spock and the jammed clothes dryer.

A single woman never has to drudge. She can get her housework over within one good hour Saturday morning plus one other hour to iron blouses and white collars. She need never break her fingernails or her spirit waxing a playroom or cleaning out the garage.

She has more money for clothes and for trips than any but a wealthily married few.

Sex—What of It?

Theoretically a "nice" single woman has no sex life. What nonsense! She has a better sex life than most of her married friends. She need never be bored with one man per lifetime. Her choice of partners is endless and they seek her. They never come to her bed duty-bound. Her married friends refer to her pursuers as wolves, but actually many of them turn out to be lambs—to be shorn and worn by her.

Sex of course is more than the act of coitus. It begins with the delicious feeling of attraction between two people. It may never go further, but sex it is. And a single woman may promote the attraction, bask in the sensation, drink it like wine and pour it over her like blossoms, with never a guilty twinge. She can promise with a look, a touch, a letter or a kiss—and she doesn't have to deliver. She can be maddeningly hypocritical and, after arousing desire, insist that it be shut off by stating she wants to be chaste for the man she marries. Her pursuer may strangle her with his necktie, but he can't argue with her. A flirtatious married woman is expected to Go Through With Things.

Since for a female getting there is at least half the fun, a single woman has reason to prize the luxury of taking long, gossamer, attenuated, pulsating trips before finally arriving in bed. A married woman and her husband have precious little time and energy for romance after they've put the house, animals and children to bed. A married woman with her lover is on an even tighter schedule.

During and after an affair, a single woman suffers emotional stress. Do you think a married woman can bring one off more blissfully free of strain? (One of my close friends, married, committed suicide over a feckless lover. Another is currently in a state of fingernail-biting hysteria.) And I would rather be the other woman than the woman who watches a man stray from her.

Yet, while indulging her libido, which she has plenty of if she is young and healthy, it is still possible for the single woman to be a lady, to be highly respected and even envied if she is successful in her work.

I did it. So have many of my friends.

Perhaps this all sounds like bragging. I do not mean to suggest for a moment that being single is not often hell. But I do mean to suggest that it can also be quite heavenly, whether you choose it or it chooses you.

There is a catch to achieving single bliss. You have to work like a son of a bitch.

But show me the married woman who can loll about and eat cherry bonbons! Hourly she is told by every magazine she reads what she must do to keep her marriage from bursting at the seams. There is no peace for anybody married or single unless you do your chores. Frankly, I wouldn't want to make the choice between a married hell or a single hell. They're both hell.

However, serving time as a single woman can give you the foundation for a better marriage if you finally go that route. Funnily enough it also gives you the choice.

What then does it take for a single woman to lead the rich, full life?

Here is what it doesn't take.

Great beauty. A man seems not so much attracted to overwhelming beauty as he is just overwhelmed by it—at first. Then he grows accustomed to the face, fabulous as it is, and starts to explore the personality. Now the hidden assets of an attractive girl can be as fascinating as the dark side of the moon. Plumbing the depths of a raving beauty may be like plumbing the depths of Saran Wrap.

What it also doesn't take to collect men is money. Have you ever noticed the birds who circle around rich girls? Strictly for the aviary.

You also don't have to be Auntie Mame and electrify everybody with your high-voltage personality. Do you like the girl who always grabs the floor to tell what happened to her in the elevator? Well neither does anybody else.

And you don't have to be the fireball who organizes bowling teams, gets out the chain letters and makes certain somebody gives a shower for the latest bride.

What you do have to do is work with the raw material you have, namely you, and never let up.

If you would like the good single life—since the married life is not just now forthcoming—you can't afford to leave any facet of you unpolished.

You don't have to do anything brassy or show-offy or against your nature. Your most prodigious work will be on you—at home. (When I got married, I moved in with six-pound dumbbells, slant board, an electronic device for erasing wrinkles, several pounds of soy lecithin, powdered calcium and yeast-liver concentrate for Serenity Cocktails and enough high-powered vitamins to generate life in a statue.)

Unlike Madame Bovary you don't chase the glittering life, you lay a trap for it. You tunnel up from the bottom.

You do need a quiet, private, personal aggression … a refusal to take singleness lying down. A sweetly smiling drop-dead attitude for the marrying Sams, and that means you too.

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. (One girl is a long-legged, tennis-playing whiz by day, a serene pool at night for friends to drown their tensions in. Wholesomeness is her trademark. A petite brunette is gamine but serious-minded. A knockout in black jersey, she is forever promoting discussions on Stendhal or diminishing colonialism. An intellectual charmer.)

Brains are an asset but it doesn't take brainy brains like a nuclear physicist's. Whatever it is that keeps you from saying anything unkind and keeps you asking bright questions even when you don't quite understand the answers will do nicely. A lively interest in people and things (even if you aren't that interested) is why bosses trust you with new assignments, why men talk to you at parties … and sometimes ask you on to dinner.

Fashion is your powerful ally. Let the "secure" married girls eschew shortening their skirts (or lengthening them) and wear their classic cashmeres and tweeds until everybody could throw up. You be the girl other girls look at to see what America has copied from Paris.

Roommates are for sorority girls. You need an apartment alone even if it's over a garage.

Your figure can't harbor an ounce of baby fat. It never looked good on anybody but babies.

You must cook well. It will serve you faithfully.

You must have a job that interests you, at which you work hard.

I say "must" about all these things as though you were under orders. You don't have to do anything. I'm just telling you what worked for me.

I'm sure of this. You're not too fat, too thin, too tall, too small too dumb, or too myopic to have married women gazing at you wistfully.

This then is not a study on how to get married but how to stay single—in superlative style.



During your years as a single woman you will find, through no effort on your part, that you have become "The Girl" in a man's life, often a married man.

Being The Girl doesn't necessarily mean you are sleeping with him, although you may be. You could be the love of his life whom he didn't marry fifteen years ago or a girl he sees but barely knows. He can have other flesh-and-blood girls at the same time. You are simply the girl he dreams of when his mind takes flight from his real-life situation. You are his Girl.

Why doesn't he dream of Marilyn Monroe or Natalie Wood? Do you dream of Kirk Douglas or Rock Hudson? Like you, he'd rather dream of someone Possible who might conceivably be, or perhaps already has been, his.

To be The Girl imposes very few obligations. You may not have to do anything but just exist. Flirting may start his imagination boiling. More often he makes his choice independently of you.

During the past seventeen years I believe I was The Girl of at least twelve eminently successful men. And as I mentioned earlier, I'm not beautiful or even pretty. No man, to my knowledge, has ever looked at me across a crowded room and said, "Her. Could you get me a date?" Yet I managed to sink into the consciousness and subconsciousness of an advertising tycoon, a motivational research wizard, two generals, a brewer, a publisher, a millionaire real estate developer and two extremely attractive men who were younger than I.

Being The Girl is a wonderful way to feel loved and appreciated when you are without a husband. Men who put you in that category, if they do decide to tell you about it, write lovely letters, say ego-building things and send gifts they cannot afford.

Marguerite Clarke (I'll use fictitious names from now on to protect the guilty) is pretty but naïve for a girl of thirty-one who has been married and divorced. One of the men in our office is so nuts about her he is simply beside himself. Contradictory as it sounds he is also happily married. Marguerite is a friend of his wife's and has never led him on. Yet he leaves love offerings of flowers on her desk, gets her raises before they are due and arranges for her to buy everything from electric blankets to hi-fi records wholesale. He also advises her on taxes, insurance and stocks. He even introduces attractive male visitors to her. A kook? Not at all. He is enjoying himself in a way that is harmless to his wife. He is making Marguerite feel beautiful, wanted, important and protected. That's what being The Girl is.

Another girl I know works for the telephone company. She has an older admirer in the same company. She is twenty-three. He is fifty-nine. Every Christmas, birthday and in-between holiday like Valentine's Day and Easter he presents her with a modest piece of jewelry or cash gift. His first offering came though they had hardly spoken. She, aghast, tried to give it back. He said, "Mary Jane, you are a beautiful young woman. I am not after your body though I might be if I were younger. As you may or may not know I am absolutely alone in this world. I don't make very much money, but I have no one to spend it on but me. It would give me the greatest pleasure to give you things. You need never tell anyone about it. I certainly never will. But please do me this favor."


Excerpted from Sex and the Single Girl by Helen Gurley Brown. Copyright © 1962 Helen Gurley Brown. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Helen Gurley Brown (b. 1922) is a bestselling writer and editor considered one of the most influential figures of Second Wave feminism. Editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan for thirty-two years, Brown transformed the magazine from a staid, behind-the-times women’s publication to one of most widely read magazines among young women in the United States. Brown’s trailblazing book Sex and the Single Girl jump-started the sexual revolution when it was published in 1962. Her fun, flirty, and unabashed advice helped a generation of women navigate the changing cultural norms both inside and outside the bedroom, and inspired the follow-up book Sex and the Office (1965). Brown lives in New York City. 

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Sex and The Single Girl (Cult Classics Series) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book, it's really cute and worth every woman's time. This is not the book teaching you how live like Carrie Bradshaw, rather, this is the book teach you how to be more confident and glomours with your limited resources.
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