“God protects drunks, infants, and feisty girls, girls who are up for anything.” Cynthia Heimel, who died this year, riled the feminist movement in 1983 with her satirical novel Sex Tips for Girls, but the book has proven to be spot on in 2018
Cynthia Heimel died at the age of 70 on February 25, 2018 in Los Angeles from complications relating to dementia. Her satirical novel, Sex Tips For Girls, was a bitingly modern take on the popular Cosmopolitan magazine advice columns geared towards young women.
First published in 1983 by Touchstone, Sex Tips for Girls was not embraced by the second-wave feminists of that time. Feminism in the 1980s was rife with anti-pornographic messages—championed by the ever-radical Andrea Dworkin—and uptight yuppie women were turning to the corporate workforce with a vigor unmatched in the bedroom. Back then, the failed notion was making the rounds that one must either denounce fucking entirely, or embrace capitalism like a hot one night stand.
Heimel wanted nothing to do with either of those, and Sex Tips provided a raw honesty that came from being young, horny, and heartbroken in 1980s New York. The novel covered topics ranging from the serious and hopeful to the raunchy and mundane. Amidst dated references to taking quaaludes (this leaves a bad taste after the recent Bill Cosby trial) and bribing answering-machine operators, there are gems that celebrate women who openly enjoy pleasure, the hunt of looking for love, and a sense of railing our vinyl mini-skirted asses against the status quo.
Heimel writes, “Things have gone all weird in the world. Those who should know better are using words like ‘interface’ and ‘networking.’ Men who look like totally normal citizens are running around in ill-fitting polyester suits and polluting rivers. Women who should know better appear in gold-lamé knickers or try to close down abortion clinics. Nobody can get a decent job, a good cigar, or a sane boyfriend. You can’t tell a Buick from a Chrysler. Most of the rock and roll on the radio is played by dead people. The universe is expanding. Movie stars run tame in the White House.”
Heimel was brazen, powerful and unashamed about wanting to embrace hedonism—all ideals that were once considered controversial but are heralded now. Her quick wordplay is coupled with an upbeat and encouraging voice. She genuinely consoles women on how to deal with loneliness and in the same breath offers advice on how to give proper head. She wrote, “…The head of the penis when licked in a swirly motion, will feel extremely cheerful” and warns against spitting instead of swallowing.
There is a lightness and sense of feminine camaraderie in every passage of the novel. Her tone reminds me of my group chat comprised of close girlfriends and my gay brother. In real time we gossip about dick sizes, awkward dates, what we’re currently reading, console anyone in a bad mood, share memes, and offer earnest advice. I consider Heimel a real-life version of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, reveling in having fun, discovering herself and getting laid in the process. Heimel wrote about these subjects decades prior in a fresh way that still feels modern. I can’t help but wonder how successful Sex Tips For Girls would have been, if published in this era.
In the introduction to her novel, Heimel provides a list of six tips that help us embrace frivolity and have a good time. They are:
Have adventures. “Whenever possible, we must opt for the unknown.”
Give fear exceedingly short shrift. “God protects drunks, infants, and feisty girls, girls who are up for anything.”
Shun boredom. “We must quit dull jobs, leave tedious boyfriends.”
Cultivate a deviant attitude. “Unless we’re vigilant, we could turn into zombies.”
No power-politics, no back-stabbing. “…Some of us take this philosophy too far and feel perfectly justified in ruthlessly clawing our way to the top, not minding how many innocent girls’ heads we step on in our ascent.”
Only drink and take drugs if we have to. “If we take weird acid one minute, the next minute we could find ourselves devoting our lives to the Grateful Dead.”
I will rest easy knowing that if there is a God (I’m a non-believer) I am protected. I take these suggestions to heart, recognizing that part of the allure of metropolitan life is not knowing what comes next. Heimel goes on to mention aspects of daily life that are trivial and should be avoided, including mortgages, conceptual art and designer sunglasses. All things frivolous are actions and should be celebrated, some of which include drinking champagne, buying dresses, telling jokes and fucking. A woman after my own heart.
I consider Heimel a real-life version of Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw, reveling in having fun, discovering herself and getting laid in the process.
Dating in New York City at the ripe old age of 26 is absurd. I have enough stories of bad sex, dates with unexpected fetishes, outlandish things I’ve done to win the attention of potential lovers, and crying under neon signs to get through multiple pots of Veselka coffee. (I will gladly share them if you’re buying.) Cynthia Heimel’s novel stands up over time—not much has changed—but in her version of New York, you might still be able to catch a show at CBGBs or waver near a jukebox playing Hank Williams.
While reading Sex Tips I can smell the stale cigarette smoke from a long-since-demolished bar clinging to my hair. I can picture what I’d wear in the 80s…apparently nothing except for what Ms. Heimel considers essential to every woman’s wardrobe: “…only three pairs of shoes: black boots, red high heels, and white sneakers.” A new spin on what’s black and white and red all over…I’m a size nine, if you’re wondering.
Cynthia Heimel was a massive influence on a generation of women writers who refuse to be meek, celebrate having a good time and are unashamed about it. I think of her as a contemporary Dorothy Parker. She was profound, hilarious, and brutally frank. Her work as a columnist for the Village Voice and her contributions to Playboy, Vogue and New York Magazine have been recognized for their literary merit. Although she gathered attention for writing about sex, there is an undertone throughout her work that is about basic human bonding and trying to just simply get close to another person. (Even if getting close means getting them undressed.)
“You must just acknowledge deep in your heart of hearts that people are supposed to fuck. It is our main purpose in life, and all those other activities—playing the trumpet, vacuuming carpets, reading mystery novels, eating chocolate mousse—are just ways of passing the time until you can fuck again. Well, maybe not eating chocolate mousse. If it is made with good Swiss chocolate and topped off with Devon cream, eating chocolate mousse is almost as good as fucking.” Amen.
Heimel’s other works touch upon similar subject matter, often including slyly hilarious titles, such as, If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet? and If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too? Heimel is a master of wordplay. She distills emotional–and often gritty–personal dating experiences down to hilarious quips that mend broken hearts with the vigor of a drunken surgeon.