An Open Letter to Cosmo

Dear Cosmo,

I’m writing to tell you that I watched Channel 4’s Sex in Class last night, and I kind of hoped that the teenage boys who said the kinds of things in the tweets below would grow up as they, well, grow up.

Having read your article, I’m not so sure. I haven’t bought you for a while, to be honest. I read you in the hairdresser, if it’s a choice between you and Hello, but if Red or Marie Claire, or even Good Housekeeping, are available instead, then that’s what I’ll pick up.

But let’s be honest, The Last Sexual Taboo (…or is it?) is a good strapline. I’ve been walking past you a lot this month wondering what *is* the last sexual taboo. I still wouldn’t have bought you, but I probably would’ve flicked through you in M&S to find out the answer. And then, as luck would have it, you turned up in the seat pocket of the flight I was on last night.

And I thought ‘Surely it’s not anal?’

Spoiler alert: It’s anal.

I could start by saying, Cosmo, that I don’t think anal is the last taboo. I seem to remember years ago reading that 1 in 3 couples had tried it. I like it. I fantasise about it probably more than I fantasise about anything else. The first time I tried it was fucking amazing. It still scares me a bit, sometimes it hurts, and I worry about it being messy/dirty. But I *do* like it, and although it was a guy who proposed it the first time I tried it, it’s been my suggestion nearly every other time since.

Anyway, let’s talk about the article. Shall we start with the subheadings? Here we go:

  1. Pressure to perform
  2. ‘Dick slips’
  3. Remember the vagina?
  4. Why does he want it?
  5. An erogenous zone?

Two things strike me about these subheads, Cosmo. They’re very negative, and they’re very male-focused. And the problem with the article is evident from the very start:

“I was never interested,” says Jill. “I didn’t want to do it, and I didn’t want to talk about it. But during sex, he would say “Can I put it in your bum?” every time. It seemed really important to this guy, so Jill finally agreed. […]

“It was not enjoyable at all,” she says. “We used lube and a condom and we tried foreplay. But I could hold on for only two or three minutes before I said “I can’t do it!'”

Prince Charming finished up with some vaginal sex that night, and Jill spoke loudly and often about how awful it had been for her. “But he kept on asking.” Eventually he cheated on her, citing her unwillingness to have anal as one of the reasons. Would it shock you to know they broke up?

I wonder why you included this cautionary tale? You could have done a lot with it. You could have pointed out that if you’re switching from anal to vaginal, you need to use a new condom. You could’ve pointed out explicitly that the guy behaved like a dick, rather than just sarcastically referring to him as ‘Prince Charming.’ I’d even have been on board with you pointing out that it’s not ideal to go from ‘I didn’t want to talk about it’ to ‘[I] spoke loudly and often about how awful it had been.’ At least, I think that’s what you mean. When your sentence is ‘Prince Charming finished up with some vaginal sex that night, and Jill spoke loudly and often about how awful it had been for her,’ it’s not clear which was awful: the anal or the vaginal.

OK, so in the next paragraph you are explicit about the guys who have ‘dick slips’ being ‘true assholes.’ This paragraph is a bit better, tbh – it actually begins to tackle the issue of consent responsibly. Still not what I was expecting from what you put on the cover, though. And then you really go and ruin it again.

So when did the vagina stop being the holy grail? When I was growing up it was a treasure to be saved for special occasions with special people.

Honestly, you make a mockery of the newsagent in the town where I went to school, who wanted proof of age before he’d sell you, Cosmo. You had such an opportunity here to inform women about something that can be really hot. Instead, you slipped the tale of the woman who genuinely likes it under the subheading Why does he want it? You picked a married women who said ‘We love it,’ and you phrased her reasoning thus: ‘Rachel likes it because she likes to please her husband, but also because it feels good to her.’ Because god forbid you pick a woman who does it *just* because it feels good to her.

Finally, two paragraphs from the end, you get to the point I think you should have been making all along (although you could’ve dropped the ‘in relationships’ bit):

Women in relationships who mutually decided with their partner to have anal sex talked about a profound experience.

I see what you did here. You commissioned the article from someone who’s thinking about trying anal for the first time because you thought that would make for a more approachable, less intimidating article, right? I disagree. I think the author’s attitude to anal is fearful enough here to actually be off-putting. And maybe I’m a humourless bitch, but I don’t find the ‘thinking of taking a trip to Brownton Abbey‘ line funny, either, especially in the context of an article that seems to suggest that anal goes hand in hand with problematic, immature communication.

You’re getting a new editor next month. And god, I hope for your sake that she brings a fresh approach to mainstream sex writing.

Cosmopolitan? Provincial, more like…

It’s a mystery to me why, even though I’m always knackered, even though I often fall asleep midway through a wank and wake up an hour or so later with an erotica anthology on my face and my vibe buzzing against my thigh, there is always, *always* time for more Twitter before bed. Often, of course, it’s a waste of valuable sleep time, but from time to time I stumble upon something that makes me think that final scroll through my TL was worth it.

Last night was one such night. Ella Dawson and Eva Gantz were having a conversation about this post of Ella’s, and her surprise that it hadn’t garnered more of a reaction. I was surprised too, because it’s fucking fantastic. In fact, my guilt at piggybacking a post off it is somewhat offset by the knowledge that I’m now sharing it at a bit more of a reasonable hour. That said, she doesn’t need me to share it again: it’s certainly been noticed by the sex blogging/erotica community now. Yay! Go Ella!

It got me thinking about collaborations in the world of erotica, and whether they’re ever a good thing. A while back, I read Sylvia Day’s Afterburn and Aftershock (is it me or are they also two foul coloured spirits that you drink only when hammered in nightclubs?) The book was published by Mills & Boon, but in collaboration with Cosmo. The Cosmo collaboration is more than just their name on the cover, too. There’s some nice agony aunt (sorry, sexual psychotherapist) action at the back, as well as a bit of a Q&A with some big names in the sex writing scene (Zoe Margolis, Alissa Nutting, Cherry Healey…)  that’s framed as ‘Sex mistakes by the women who’ve made them.’ Which is a wonderfully sex positive slant to put on such advice as ‘I wish I’d known it’s ok to masturbate.’

For my sins, I quite like Sylvia Day’s writing. Sure, it’s undeniably trashy. Like E L James, she has pet turns of phrase and descriptions that she returns to time and again, which might not bother you that much for the first book, but which sure as hell do by the third. And yet, I romped through the first in the Crossfire series in a way that I just didn’t with FSoG. I think Afterburn and Aftershock are more problematic, at times: there’s a point at which the hero, having expressly been asked by the heroine to sleep elsewhere, crawls into her bed in the middle of the night, blatantly ignoring her wishes in a way that’s not domming, but just damn out of order.

But it’s Cosmo’s involvement that really riles me. Those of you who follow me on Twitter might have seen that last week I finally reached the end of my tether with both @Cosmopolitan and @Cosmopolitan_UK and unfollowed both on the basis it would make me happier. And you know what? It has. I don’t need yet another list post called ’24 things that are NOT vaginas, but really look like them’ and I certainly don’t need ‘9 reasons why he’s acting super distant.’

It’s sometimes hard, even as a sort-of sex blogger, to keep tabs on just how far behind the sex blogging community the real world’s attitudes to sex are. Sometimes, that can actually be a comfort: I have days when I really *am* vanilla, when I need to know that the whole world isn’t non-monogamous or kinking. But more often, it’s just a painful reminder of why hard copy erotica doesn’t sell, of why list posts rule the internet, and actually, why feminism still has so far to go.

When I was fourteen, my local newsagent used to ID girls buying Cosmo, like some kind of self-appointed moral guardian of the realm. It was, he claimed ‘too full of sex,’ to be suitable for teenagers. Perhaps back then, in the 90s, it really was groundbreaking, although I doubt it somehow. It just makes me so depressed that in 2014, the questions Cosmo is still asking and answering at the back of a chart bestseller are ‘Will I ever orgasm?’ ‘Am I weird because I like porn?’ and of course, not forgetting ‘his’ question: ‘I fantasise about having sex with a strap on. I fancy women, so I’m not gay, but am I abnormal?’

There’s one thing both guys and gals could do with learning from Cosmo: it’s never going to help you feel more normal.