Cynthia Heimel, whose first book, “Sex Tips for Girls,” established her in the early 1980s as a fearlessly funny writer about men, feminism, female friendships, flirting, birth control and lingerie, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. She was 70.
Her son, Brodie Ransom, said she was given a diagnosis of dementia last year. She also suffered from depression, he said.
Ms. Heimel’s informal, confessional writing about sex and relationships preceded by more than a decade that of Candace Bushnell, whose column about dating for The New York Observer led to the HBO series “Sex and the City.”
“I used to say about Cynthia’s writing, and her being, that she had the soul of Janis Joplin in the voice of Hedda Hopper,” Emily Prager, the novelist and comedy writer, said in an email. “She was a voice for liberation with manners, freedom without regret and the blues with a grain of salt.”
Ms. Heimel (pronounced HIGH-mel) insisted that she was a humorist, not a sex expert. She appeared, actually, to be both.
The advice that she gave readers of The Village Voice and Playboy magazine was practical and bawdy — refined through the sharply profane voice of a woman seeking a good man, a bad boy or a great fling.
In “Sex Tips for Girls” (1983), a collection largely of her Voice columns, she avoided the dry prose of clinical manuals that had turned her off to sex. “I was thinking, ‘O.K., I have to write cleanly,’ and so I made it all jaunty and cheerful and made sure not to be slimy or weird and not salacious,” she told Salon in 2002. “It was sort of like nursery school writing.”
She advised women against engaging in taboo behavior when naked with men. Do not, she counseled, “laugh and point at the penile member,” “say that your husband did it exactly the same way,” or “imitate Joan Rivers.”
And she reminded her readers: “Sex is a perverse little devil and the minute you ignore it, it has a serious temper tantrum and tries every trick in the book to get you to notice. It clamors for your attention until it gets it, at which point it disappears.”
She adapted “Sex Tips” and “But Enough About You,” a 1986 collection, into a play, “A Girl’s Guide to Chaos,” which opened later that year off Broadway at the American Place Theater. The play is largely a conversation among four friends, one of whom, Cynthia (played by Debra Jo Rupp in the original production) realizes to her horror that she will have to start dating again.
“Please, God, no, don’t make me do it!” she says. “I’ll be good from now on, I promise! I’ll stop feeding the dog hashish! I’ll be kind, thoughtful, sober, industrious, anything. But please, God, not the ultimate torture of dating!”
In his review in The New York Times, Stephen Holden wrote, “Like Dorothy Parker, Ms. Heimel is an urban romantic with a scathing X-ray vision that penetrates her most deeply cherished fantasies.”
The play ran in several cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles.
Ms. Heimel published several more collections with evocative titles like “If You Can’t Live Without Me, Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?” (1991) and “Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I’m Kissing You Goodbye!” (1993). Some of the material was derived from her column at Playboy, where she tried to explain women to the magazine’s largely male readership.
“She was in the missionary position at Playboy,” she wrote of herself on the community discussion website The Well, “holding high her feminist credentials amongst the stampeding bunnies.”
In a Times review of Ms. Heimel’s book “If You Leave Me, Can I Come Too?” (1995), Sarah Ferrell observed that Ms. Heimel “writes about the same things over and over and over,” and so she wondered rhetorically if it was worth reading her latest collection. Yes, it was, she wrote.
“It’s simple,” she added. “She gets funnier, meaner and possibly even smarter, every time around.”
Cynthia Joan Glick was born in Philadelphia on July 13, 1947, and grew up nearby in Overbrook Park and Cheltenham, Pa. Her father, Bernard, was a pharmacist and pharmaceutical salesman; her mother, the former Lynne Danan, was a secretary at the Temple University School of Medicine.
After high school, Ms. Heimel told The Los Angeles Times in 1990, she left home, lived with hippies in Philadelphia for a time and then moved to Manhattan.
“She just really wanted to get out of the house and leave my parents,” Donna Evans, her sister, said in a telephone interview.
Ms. Heimel was not earning much when she moved to New York City and then, as a divorced mother, she started receiving welfare payments. (She kept the name Heimel from her first marriage.)
In the foreword to one of her books, her son, Mr. Ransom (who does not use the last name Heimel), wrote, “We stood on long lines, anxiously awaiting a fierce battle with a city employee over money for such luxuries as, oh, I don’t know, food.”
Her path to a writing career began with a job as a paste-up artist in the advertising department of The Soho Weekly News in Manhattan. She then moved to paste-up on the editorial side and began pitching stories. Her first was about an anarchists’ convention.
She learned to write by reading. “She was always reading something,” Michael Longacre, a former creative director and managing editor of the paper, said in a telephone interview. “She was completely devoted to P. G. Wodehouse.”
She wrote and edited at The Soho Weekly News, left briefly to work at Penthouse magazine, returned to the paper for a while and was then hired by The Voice. Her humorous advice column there was called “Problem Lady.” She also wrote a fashion column.
When an incoming Village Voice editor fired her in 1997 — he called her writing “predictable” before dismissing her — she told The New York Post, “I feel like I’ve walked into a Kafka novel where old stupid guys get to fire you.”
She also wrote for New York magazine, The Daily News and Vogue.
Ms. Heimel moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s and worked for one season on the writing staff of “Dear John,” a sitcom that starred Judd Hirsch.
In addition to her son and her sister, she is survived by four grandchildren. Her marriages to Steven Heimel and Abe Opincar ended in divorce.
Reflecting in the mid-1990s about the backlash against feminism by both men and women, she wrote that each sex had to compromise.
To men, she wrote, “There must be no complaints when dinner is late or nonexistent, if dark roots show and the occasional leg is unwaxed.”
To women, she said: “Women must stop wheedling and manipulating their men when they want a new sofa. We may not pout and toss our curls like little girls who need Daddy’s permission or use sex as a power tool; we must be prepared to shoulder equal burdens or sacrifice all rights to equal opportunities.”