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.

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List posts: are they *ever* sex positive?

Wow, I’ve been AWOL for a while, haven’t I? So much so, in fact, that the last post on my blog is still a topless picture of me, and while I’m very, very proud of that photo, it might be time to move on from it now…

Anyway. While I’ve been away, Exhibit A and Em at AnyGirlFriday wrote this response to this piece posted on the Metro website by a blogger called Hannah Gale. And mostly, it’s a very, very good response.

But I’ve read the comments on their post too, and a couple of people seemed to be suggesting that they’d got a little too personal in places; that the post at times became less critical of Hannah’s points, and more critical of Hannah herself. And it occurred to me that the problem with Hannah’s piece is probably only part Hannah: more likely, the real party at fault is the Metro.

Magazines/newspapers are notoriously bad for this kind of stuff – a brief look at the Metro’s blog page this morning yielded this:

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OK, bottom right is positive, I guess, and to be fair, the one cut off on the top right is about not slutshaming Magaluf Girl. 10 things all London women know about dating is pretty neutral. But I don’t think you could claim that this selection suggests that the Metro is in any way sex positive. And it’s not just them. A few days back, I caused a bit of a stir on Twitter by sharing this awful Cosmo post called. ‘18 Reasons Not to Give Him a Blowjob.’ Generally, my followers felt there was only one reason not to give a guy a blow job: because you didn’t want to. Stretching it out to 18 increasingly dubious points including one about not wanting to ruin your matte lipstick is unnecessary, patronising and, I think, a completely inaccurate representation of most women’s attitudes towards (oral) sex.

But Hannah’s piece, I think, suffers from the exact opposite problem: while Cosmo desperately tries to stretch a single point out to fill a whole column, Hannah’s entire post, based on some fairly crude calculations, is around the 500 word mark. How many words did Em and Exhibit A use to respond? Well, if you deduct Hannah’s words, which they reproduced, I think it’s around 3000.

The Metro will have asked Hannah to write around 20 points, and probably that 500 words is a limit they set, too. There’s no room within that for Hannah to be nuanced in the way that the response post is. It’s total clickbait, and the Metro *know* that. They probably gave her the title, too and I challenge anyone to put a positive spin on something called ‘The 21 unsexiest things about sex.’

Yes, she doesn’t have to write for them – but the opportunity to write somewhere where you know your writing will be seen, which you could potentially spin as a fairly good gig on your CV might well be difficult to turn down. I don’t think the blame lies with her essentially – I think it lies with the paper and with the list post format. It *is* possible to be nuanced and positive in under 500 words (I try to do just that in most of what I write here) but while we keep clicking on these pathetic posts, we’re not giving the media any reason to change. Seek out independent bloggers instead, and share stuff you like – it’s a much better use of your time than the Metro’s bullshit…