Michaeline: Fantasy Sex and Fantastic Sex and People, Real or Otherwise

I want to revisit my post of last week about the suspension of disbelief, and how that played out in the Cosmo article on car sex, and the critique of that article on Jalopnik.

Vroom, vroom.

Let me drive you crazy with this steering arm.

First, I think it’s safe to assume that Molly Triffin is really a woman, and Jason Torchinsky is really a man. They have a lot in common: an easy-breezy magazine-y tone, and they want to make their audiences laugh. The Jalopnik article wants to inform as well as entertain. On the surface, the Cosmo article also wants to inform, but the writer’s main focus is humor – and most people who have read more than three Cosmo issues recognize that the sex tips are really kind of a joke.

The Cosmo article makes a lot of assumptions about their readers, and role that gender plays in the minds of the readers. It recognizes that a lot of women’s sexual pleasure comes from titillating the partner. But they make the assumption that 1) the man is just happy to have sex, and 2) there is no chance of failure because even if a sex tip doesn’t work, the guy is still ecstatic that he got some.


Torchinsky calls bullshit on the Cosmo assumptions. He basically says men do like sex, but they don’t want to play a lot of stupid games to have it. Being a car geek, he’s particularly offended by the uncomfortable, unrealistic part the car plays in these scenarios.

I think it’s a well-established meme in pop culture that men are also very invested in pleasing their partners. Look in the back of certain magazines, and you’ll find ads telling him how to “drive women crazy”. Also, in the movie “Hope Springs,” the Tommy Lee Jones character tells the Steve Carell therapist that he feels his wife is just enduring sex, and says something like, “It’s not a lot of fun having sex with someone who doesn’t want it too.”

The Cosmo tips look male-centered, but they are very much about the woman – as well they should be. It’s a women’s magazine. But they don’t tell the whole story, and I think it goes without saying that they shouldn’t be your only source when you are researching human sexuality for your book.

Cosmo, I think, assumes that the Cosmo boyfriend wants the same kinds of things the Cosmo girl wants – sensory stimulation, a rich fantasy foreplay, and a sense of naughtiness. Looking through some of the comments at Jalopnik and on the sister site Jezebel in an article about different Cosmo sex tips, we can see that the Cosmo writers don’t think the sex tips are going to leave the page. They are meant to provide a pleasant fantasy for women.

An escapist fantasy doesn’t necessarily mean that details have to work in real life. It’s wonderful if fantasy could survive a closer look, but in general, this kind of reader wants escape. In the case of Cosmo sex tips, they want to leave behind the good-girl hang-ups, and have naughty, thrilling sex that drives their partners crazy with lust and desire.

But, I have to admit, it’s terribly funny when someone takes a good, hard look at the tropes underpinning the fantasies. This is one of my favorite devices in fiction – the vampire that can’t stand blood, the werewolf who is afraid of cats, the hero who says, “OK, how about this time we *don’t* go running through the door yelling and screaming and tipping off the enemy?”

Two different roads to Oz. One requires a hefty suspension bridge of disbelief; the other, knowledge of that bridge’s struts and supports.

6 thoughts on “Michaeline: Fantasy Sex and Fantastic Sex and People, Real or Otherwise

  1. Good post, Mick–and I’m interested to hear if the title inflates your average hit rate for the blog! I’m particularly interested in this because Belial, my demon hero, makes his bread and butter off of being a fantasy lover. Dare, my heroine,doesn’t buy into that trope. Her mom watched Pretty Woman obsessively, and waited for the man who would come along and rescue them from poverty, but every man who came into their lives promising big things just left them worse off. So when Belial wants to shower her with cars and clothes and scuba-diving trips to the Great Barrier Reef, she is deeply skeptical.

    This is great–you just helped me really evolve her backstory with her mom. Thanks!

    • LOL, I think I need to write “sex, sex, sex” in the tags, but I was afraid I’d attract the wrong kind of hits (-:. Angry hits, because they’d be expecting something completely different (-:.

      Trope reversal just fascinates me. I think I’ve read that Jane Austen plays with that a lot in her novels — quite a change from the overblown novels that traipsed through the 18th century . . . .

  2. I am devastated to hear that Cosmo writers don’t expect you to try out their sex tips. In college, my best friends and I would gather for ice cream and read through each month’s issue and try out every single tip on our boyfriends, then report back. Four out of the five of us ended up marrying those guys, and twenty-five years later three of us are still married to the fellows we experimented on all those years ago. And yes, plenty of the Cosmo tips (some on the Jezebel page you reference!) made it into the regular (and highly appreciated) repertoire.

    The Jezebel article is written by a guy who apparently thinks it’s not good to incorporate food into sex because it’s sticky and messes up the sheets. ‘Cause, you know, keeping the sheets clean is what good sex is all about.

    • LOL, I was just shocked at that car guy’s attitude when I first read his article. “Hey, you are getting sex . . . I thought guys didn’t care where they got it, as long as they got it.” But, it turns out that guys, just like normal human beings, come in a grand range of attitudes.

      I think I’ve tried a Cosmo (or Cosmoesque) tip or two out on my boyfriend-now-husband. Ice cubes were not much appreciated. He’d endure it, but it wasn’t really pleasurable. And then I, you know, actually talked to him about what he liked, instead of trying to find out via magazines, and was a little surprised at what he said.

      We both did love dipping strawberries into sugar/champagne/chocolate and sharing them — and we both would prefer to avoid extra laundry (-: . A towel or two, fine. Whole sheets? No. But, there’s not a lot that’s really romantic about clean sheets . . . .

  3. I think I’m much more wanting to know the struts and spans, and using that knowledge to make things amazing with a grounded support. I really like writers who can do both. And that applies to everything from horses in fantasy to guns in urban fantasy to details like car sex in romance. I think it’s Welcome to Temptation with the interrupted car sex scene that was so real and embarrassing that I had to laugh. That’s what I look for- enough realism to ground the story.

    • I come from a fantasy and science fiction background, and it’s kind of amazing how many nitpickers there are about the struts and spans of fiction. I think it’s because something little can provide big hints about big things. For example, a lot of people will complain about moon phases — “It was a midnight, and the full moon rose in the east” for plot purposes. But the SFF fan says, “Oh yeah? On what planet does *that* happen?”

      (-: The romance under a blood-red moon probably should take place just after sunset, or under a heavy smog warning.

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