I admit it. I have read Cosmo.
Like bad reality television, Cosmopolitan magazine is addictive. It indulges the lowest and least thoughtful sides of us. It is entertaining and it is easy.
And yet, as I picked up a copy of the December issue at Red & Black Café, I found myself attempting to angle the cover away from view, treating the surprising number of elderly patrons in the Café to a lusty but dull back-cover ad for Acqua di Gioia by Georgio Armani. Cosmo is a guilty pleasure that has grown more guilty and less pleasurable since I arrived at Wesleyan.
Of course, Cosmo is still pretty great for a few laughs, something capitalized upon by the parody Tumblr blog Exxxpert Cosmo Tips. The folks in charge over there suggest that you “secretly record the sounds of you and your man having sex. And then get in touch with your sexy DJ side by mixing it with the theme from Space Jam (or any other “hott” track!). Put it on his iPod for a sexy, arousing eargasm he’ll never expect! Bonus points if he gets an inconvenient public hard-on!” Even better, they implore you to “let your man know how much of a grrl gamer you are by sending him pictures of you licking an Xbox controller! This will for sure turn him on.”
What’s more ridiculous is that these absurd tips are not that far removed from the actual tips in Cosmo. Here are a few of my favorites from the real December Cosmo issue’s list of 100 Best Sex Tips Of The Year: “tie him up on his back and use shoelaces to tie a remote-controlled vibrator to the shaft of his penis and play with speeds;” or, “when he’s going down on you, tell him to trace a devious message on your hoo-ha.” Then try getting “pleasure from his feet (really): Lie down, legs apart, with your guy standing above you. He should then use his (clean!) big toe to stimulate your clitoris.” Finally, we are asked to “wrap a belt around each of his thighs. This will push more blood into his penis, making his erection feel even harder.” It could, of course, cut off circulation to his legs and make them fall asleep.
Then, of course, there is the straight up dangerous advice. For instance, they suggest that you put a condom on with your mouth. This is an excellent idea if you’re good with catching a few STIs. Additionally, when a reader asked their resident sex advice columnist what the best position is to have sex in a bathtub, she did not even mention the risks of having sex underwater–which include infertility induced by water entering the fallopian tubes and scarring them.
But frankly, pointing out the silliness of Cosmo is not a new thing. It’s almost too easy to pull ridiculous quotes from the magazine.
The debate over Cosmo’s position in feminist dialogue is not new either. The cover of Cosmo makes it pretty clear who the magazine’s demographic is, and who that demographic is catering to. Front-cover articles include “His Secret Marriage Checklist” and “When He Shouldn’t See You Naked.” The Cosmo Woman is apparently very straight and constantly interested in pleasing her man.
There is an entire section titled “101 Things About Men” and an article in which Joe Jonas describes what he’d like to see in your apartment. Perhaps most annoying are the endless polls. Did you know, for instance, that 69 out of 100 guys that Cosmo found on the street find “spiked nails” scary? As a fact junkie, I used to love these polls. But in truth, they are inherently problematic. Are we really going to base our personal decisions upon the preferences of the majority of a random group of guys? Apparently we should. There’s an entire page entitled “Will He Love It?” where “dudes” weigh in on wide leg jeans and over-the-knee boots (79 percent hate the first but 56 percent love the second).
This kind of attitude toward gender relations and sex is so inherently problematic that I want to march all the way down to the Cosmo offices in my wide-leg jeans and spiky nails just to yell at them. It suggests that men and women are two entirely different species and that we need polls to understand what the other gender wants. Or, better yet, advice columnists. One reader wrote in to ask why her boyfriend put her fingers on the skin between his testicles and his anus during foreplay. But why did she not just ask him?
This rhetoric of “decoding” men does not make for the “mind-blowing sex” that Cosmo promises in nearly every issue. It creates an environment of him vs. her and, despite the 100 quirky sex tips, gives us little room to enjoy sex in an honest and thoughtful way. Though I am pleased that Cosmo, as a major national magazine, is so positive in its approach to sex, it goes about sex-positivity in the narrowest of ways. I am not saying that Cosmo should start publishing vintage Judith Butler, but the editors could perhaps acknowledge the world does not consist solely of straight, sex-crazed girlfriends.