Maxim is the hot magazine for men who want to be boys. It's full of panting babes and sports cars. SEX-SPORTS-BEER-GADGETS-CLOTHES it says right above the name. In Maxim, life is a game, and your job as a man is to score as often as possible. Blast, thrust, accelerate: These are the crucial verbs in the action-packed world of the Maxim man-boy. Brains sold separately.

Maxim's editorial voice is har-har, nudge-nudge. A short feature in the latest issue called How to Juggle Two Girlfriends begins: "Monogamy is a man's greatest challenge. It takes unshakeable commitment, immense emotional maturity, a will of steel in the face of overwhelming temptation. In other words, it ain't gonna happen."

A 10-point guide for doing well on a date ranges from the hygienic (clean your toilet) to the intellectual ("By the time you head out the door for your date, you should have three funny stories in the back of your mind").

There's also a how-to sex guide called the Love Gym. "She's traded in her gym routine for your love machine. But can your equipment give her a workout?"

We are obligated to give Maxim credit for being an unpretentious and sometimes amusing publication. But its success in the past couple of years is a bit scary. It took off like a rocket. Everyone in the men's magazine world has felt the urge to go in that direction. Why is Sharon Stone stark naked on the latest issue of Esquire? The publishers see where the advertising dollars are going.

"It's had a huge influence on all the men's magazines," says one editor in New York. "They've become even more ready and willing to go for common denominator stuff. This is what people want. Babes. Kind of a smug, leering tone."

The tragic thing about this is that men have been robbed of their ability to make fun of women for having such ridiculous magazines. We can no longer say anything about Cosmo! We have surrendered the high ground, or at least the little knoll, the feeble knob rising in the wasteland that is the male psyche.

For years, Cosmo and most of those other glossy women's magazines, have been our ace in the hole. Women could talk all they wanted to about having superior verbal test scores, etc., and being so much more decent and clean and caring than men, but we could point devastatingly to their magazines entirely devoted to skin, hair, celebrities, horoscopes and orgasms. Packed with ads and tiny stories, they barely touch on the world beyond the epidermis.

The truth is, when a man reads Cosmo he doesn't feel derision for women, he feels pity. It looks so hard, being self-conscious all the time. Apparently you have to constantly pluck hairs from your body.

The underlying theory of Cosmopolitan is that survival as a young woman requires the mastery of a series of tricks. Everything depends on technique. This isn't a character guide. This isn't inspirational literature. This is just a handbook, and running your life is no different from working on a car. You need instruction on how to change the spark plugs and adjust the timing belt and rotate the tires.

Cosmo's cover girl this month is the latest Bond girl -- "girl' is the official term in both cases -- Denise Richards, who acknowledges, inside, that her skin care is a high-maintenance enterprise: "Oh yeah, it takes me half an hour to get ready for bed. I use a special line from my facialist. There's a cleanser, a toner, a moisturizer, and an eye cream. Then I apply a face oil by Decleor." (Men read this and say: her FACIALIST?)

This issue includes a set of "holiday love coupons" that you can tear out and give to your guy. They say things like Love Slave for a Day and Rendezvous in the Shower. He can redeem them anytime. "This year, why not knock his stockings off by giving him the one thing that always jingles his bells -- you." In Cosmo, it goes without saying, you're supposed to jingle all the way.

Here's a story about how you can tell if a guy's going to be good in bed. Hint number five: He has a long ring finger.

Every man reading this will now pause and examine his ring finger. (The strange thing is, it seems to change sizes.)

Eventually, all magazines will go the way of Cosmo and Maxim. I'm glancing nervously at the November issue of Physics Today. There's a big story on heat transfer. It's illustrated with a photograph of some meat, a piece of medium-rare steak. Cow flesh, for now.

(Rough Draft will not appear Monday and Wednesday of next week while while we're on the road.)