Cosmopolitan has the duty to contribute to a sex-positive culture

Sex tip: Throw out Cosmo's sex tips

For many people, Cosmopolitan served as a first introduction to an open dialogue about sex. We poured over its glossy pages for tricks to please our partner and dog-eared the most scandalous articles. It wasn’t the dry PowerPoint slide from your ninth grade sex-ed class. It was real people, talking about real sex.

Still, as college students, it’s a common morning ritual to skim through Cosmo's Discover channel on Snapchat. As we drink our coffee, we indulge in their bright pink messages that flash across our screens. However, many of us haven’t really considered the messages' content and what they contribute to a cultural context.

Despite opening dialogue about sex, Cosmo isn’t going about it in the right way. The way Cosmo talks about sex doesn’t contribute to a sex positive culture, instead it perpetuates shame and negative stereotypes about sex, especially for women.

Given its legacy as a pioneer for the women’s sexual revolution and the current political climate surrounding women's rights, Cosmo has a duty to step up its game.

"In the late administration there were political voices speaking up for women," said Sharon Bramlett-Solomon, Ph.D in mass communication and associate professor at ASU. "I wouldn't be surprised if there was more pressure on (Cosmo) to up the ante."

Cosmo began in 1886 as a women's magazine. It featured articles about fashion, health, beauty, short stories and other fiction. It didn’t quite have the risqué reputation it has today. 

Then, in 1965, Helen Gurley Brown became editor-in-chief and drastically changed Cosmopolitan. She transformed the magazine into a trailblazer for women’s sexual freedom.

However, modern Cosmo is lagging behind. For every sex-positive article Cosmo publishes, there are dozens that give unhealthy advice. The Cosmopolitan slogan is “fun fearless female,” yet they are extraordinarily focused on male pleasure. Much of their content focuses on “pleasing your man,” leaving little room for content that helps readers explore their own sexuality.

It also puts a massive amount of pressure on women in bed. The magazine is brimming with intricate techniques and positions for your partner's pleasure. This makes it seem like it is solely up to the woman to facilitate a positive sexual experience, for herself and her partner. Sex is a two-way street. It's about giving and receiving. Cosmo is setting up unhealthy sexual expectations by largely ignoring this idea.

Cosmo overcomplicates sex. It makes it seem like a complex equation instead of a natural part of human life. The “little” tips often consist of multiple steps. This can create anxiety about sex for readers with little to no sexual experience.

The magazine also almost exclusively writes about straight relationships and sex, discounting the LGBT community. 

While boasting its feminist brand, Cosmo continually publishes magazine covers with overly sexualized women on the cover, reinforcing a beauty standard impossible to attain. This creates the idea that, in order to be sexually attractive, you have to be Cosmo-cover-status sexy. It’s a women’s magazine with a male gaze.

Cosmo appeals to an easier kind of feminism. It speaks out on the mainstream feminist agenda, but its content isn't inclusive of all women. Cosmo is sex positive and feminist, but only when it’s convenient for their brand.

Cosmo has a lot of catching up to do if they want to keep their reputation as a feminist and sex-positive magazine. By making strides and openly talking about women’s sexuality in a more sex positive manner, Cosmo has the potential to influence and educate girls and women internationally.


Reach the columnist at sljorda4@asu.edu or follow @skyjordan4 on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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