Why Cosmo is the worst (again)

Oh boy, where to start with this one. Last July, Cosmo published an article with the following title:

anal

I’ll get this out of the way now – no, I don’t know why I read it either. Cosmo sex articles are, almost without exception, epically shit. I could link to a dozen different smackdowns of their weird, warped, shamey take on sex and the female body, and I’d barely have scratched the surface.

Still, when this delicious-looking clickbait popped up in my Twitter feed this morning, I couldn’t resist; encouraged by the words ‘anal sex enthusiasts’ and ‘real talk’ in the lede, I dived straight in.

The intro was…not promising.

“the urban sex legend goes, ‘Guys want it because they’ve heard it’s tighter than normal sex and they’ve seen it in porn, and girls occasionally acquiesce as a bargaining chip/reward/very special birthday present.’” [all emphases mine]

Nice straw man to kick things off there. Anal sex ≠ normal sex and only men actually enjoy it. Women give in from time-to-time, but only in exchange for something they really want or when their fella deserves a nice treat. Got it. Right.

(Whoops, sorry, I mean wrong, wrong and really fucking wrong.)

Depressingly, things get much, much worse from there. The two women described as ‘enthusiasts’ at the top of the piece are asked a series of questions about their experiences with anal, ostensibly as a way of dispelling that myth and telling Cosmo readers how ‘real’ women feel about having their arse fucked.

And that would be absolutely fine – if either respondent came off as enthusiastic in any way. I’m going to bypass Woman A, who seems basically indifferent to the act itself (sample quote, when asked if it ever feels good: “I know some girls who love it…”), and go straight to the clusterfuck that is Woman B. Woman B does NOT enjoy anal sex. In fact, Woman B’s answers are full of red flags about the sex she’s having more generally.

Probably the No. 1 thing we all want to know is … does it hurt?

Woman B: Yes! If it didn’t, this wouldn’t be a topic of conversation.

Why do it?

Woman B: I usually only do it when drunk and if trying to impress the lucky dude I’m with.

Who wanted to do it more — you or the guy?

Woman B: Him. When it happens, it’s because I’ve conceded. Depends on how much I’m into him … and afterward, I kind of feel like he “owes me something.”

To recap: anal sex causes her pain, she only does it while drunk, it’s entirely for the dude’s benefit, and after she’s been pressured into letting him fuck her arse, her takeaway thought is “now he’s in my debt.” None of this exactly screams ‘active consent’. Let’s go on…

What does it feel like the first time?

Woman B: At first, extremely unpleasant. Kinda feels like a penis going in your anus.

What does it feel like over time?

Woman B: Over time, you adjust. Similar to vaginal intercourse, I suppose.

Does it ever feel good?

Woman B: It never really feels good. Just becomes more tolerable, I suppose. It also depends on the size of his manhood.

In case her first answer wasn’t clear, Woman B really wants you to know that anal isn’t fun. Nuh-uh. Maybe you’ll adjust, in the same way you did to that whole ‘normal sex’ thing, but don’t expect to enjoy it, especially if the guy you’re with has a big dick. Sorry, ‘manhood’.

On average, how soon in the relationship — if it’s a dating scenario — do you think it generally happens?

Woman B: Hmm … in my experience, if he’s into it, you know soon into the relationship. This type of “fetish” isn’t easily concealed, in my opinion.

Do you have to get an enema and/or anal douche?

Woman B: Nah. If he’s requesting entrance to my exit, he should know the risks at hand. Unless you had Chipotle for dinner. Then I’d say enema, for sure. I feel like this tends to present itself in the heat of the moment. Who’s gonna say “Hang on, hon, let me go flush my ass. I’ll be back in a few?”

Anal sex is a ‘fetish’. Anal sex is risky. Anal sex is the sort of thing you don’t talk about, you just do, mostly when you’re drunk and want to impress someone – or when they wear you down enough that you give in.

Honestly, even measured by Cosmo’s abysmally low standards, this is dangerous, depressing stuff. It sends a fucking horrible message about sexual consent by implying to readers – female and male – that it’s fine/normal for anal to happen only when the guy is persistent enough and the woman is under the influence.

Look, there are plenty of guys out there who are shit at consent, and who undoubtedly do pressure women into anal. It’s important to acknowledge that, but it’s bad journalism to hold it up as the norm; as what happens in ‘the real world’. What’s even worse – what elevates this above your average, shitty Cosmo sex article – is to do so without flagging that behaviour as wrong, especially when you then bundle the whole thing into an article that purports to showcase the views of women who are enthusiastic about anal. That’s not just bad journalism, it’s borderline irresponsible.

The responses of both women also reinforce the ‘urban myth’ cited earlier in the piece, by painting anal as something to be enjoyed by men and endured by women. Female pleasure is pretty much nowhere to be seen here, and that’s a massive problem, given how many women out there clearly do enjoy the physical sensation of being fucked that way.

Of course not everyone is a member of Team Buttsex and that’s fine, just as it’s fine not to enjoy oral, or missionary, or spanking, or whatever. I happen to love putting cock-shaped objects in my arse, and I love it even more when partners put them there for me, but I can see why plenty of people don’t share that preference. It can hurt, and it is sometimes messy, and I don’t want it all the time.

But the answer to all that is pretty simple: if anal isn’t really your cup of tea, maybe don’t do it. If you actively dislike anal, definitely don’t do it. It’s not a bargaining chip or a reward, and anyone who thinks it’s fine to nag, coerce or drug you into ‘acquiescing’ ought to be tossed firmly and quickly into the bin.

If I’m reading a practical, mythbusting article about anal sex – about any sort of sex – I want to hear from people who fucking adore getting busy that way. People who can talk knowledgeably and passionately about the dos and don’ts, the ins and outs, and whose enthusiasm shines through in what they’re saying. Those people are the ones who will tell me what it’s like to have anal sex; who will give me an idea of whether I want to try it and how to go about doing so.

Instead, Cosmo gave us a piece that does a disservice not just to women who dislike anal (“hey, I know it hurts, but maybe consider trading it for something shiny, yeah?”) but to those who love it too (“here, this is what normal women think, you deviant”). It fails on every single level.

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24 Responses to Why Cosmo is the worst (again)

  1. I got my sex tips from Cosmo and Cynthia Heimmel as a young teenager. I don’t remember being scarred by their negativity and shaming, but then, I don’t think they talked about anal in the late 80s and early 90s anyway. I feel sure I’d remember.

    Then my understanding of anal came from erotica, which isn’t hugely helpful either, in many cases.

    Now though, there’s the internet! There are a million books, but there’s so much real, useful free content out there now – there’s no excuse for being this uninformed and lacking in agency to this degree. It’s really unacceptable for either the giver or the recipient to be this … stupid about it.

  2. Ugh. I’m so glad I didn’t read it. That just makes me angry.

  3. Wow, that’s disturbing.

  4. L. Rorschach says:

    I don’t even know what to say. I’m not a huge fan of anal… yet I find that article so offensive. Cosmo should be ashamed of themselves! They should have at least provided some real tips for success, like using a silicone based lubricant. What an unprofessional piece of journalism!

  5. I don’t think younger people (I am 66) understand how much the world has changed, and in particular how information is disseminated now that we have the internet. I used to read Cosmo in the Seventies, when I was just coming to sexual maturity, and it was considered quite a shocking magazine by older people, but a real eye opener by young people. Before that, sex was hardly discussed at all. We had one lesson at school about the subject, and the biology teacher, who had obviously drawn the short straw, spoke only about the sex organs of a rabbit! I remember the scandal when Burt Reynolds appeared as a naked centrefold in Cosmo. The Pill only became available during the Sixties, and the fear of pregnancy kept many girls chaste, because it was considered a scandal for unmarried women to become pregnant. And this was only 50 years ago!
    As for anal sex – I am sure that many people did not even know it existed, or if they did, that it was something gay men did. When Aids first became news (and it was considered fatal then, there being few treatments) it was emphasised by the media etc. that it was spread almost entirely by anal sex, because the lining of the anus is more likely to be torn during intercourse than the lining of the vagina, and anal sex was much more risky. Consequently, many people were afraid of anal sex, leaving aside that they may also have been put off by thinking it would be painful for the woman.
    It is only now, that it is so easy for people to access porn and also speak to other people via FB and blogs, that the subject has become commonplace and has lost its shockability factor for many people. Anyone looking at porn sites, or blogs featuring many photographs involving BDSM, bondage etc. would wonder if vaginal sex has completely disappeared, there being so many pictures of anal sex. For people immersed in this world, either as practitioners, writers, readers etc. it would be easy to think that anal sex is now completely accepted and practised in the community as a whole, but I would seriously doubt that (although I have no facts to back up that assertion). Despite the Women’s Lib movement of the Sixties, there are still women who feel intimidated or pressured into having anal sex by their partners, just as I am sure there are also women who find it pleasurable. It is still quite a taboo subject for many people, which is the reason for the scarcity of real facts and figures on the subject. Perhaps you should contact Cosmo and ask if you can write a piece for them from the point of view of someone who finds it immensely pleasurable, rather than the half-hearted approval of the two women they quoted?

  6. Jessica says:

    On the topic of consent, I came across this very cheeky video that spells out consent in the most easy to understand terms. I was laughing throughout but the message is important none-the-less. (You mentioned “cup of tea” and consent in your post which is what made me think of this video):

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