Monday, March 7, 2011

Cosmocking: April '11! Part Two!


My coworker grabbed my Cosmo at work and was reading it unironically. I don't think she understood why I kept babbling things like "you are a beautiful and complete human being just the way you are" to her.

The last thing you want is for your significant other to think you're actually sadistic.
Yeah, God forbid you actually be into anything you're doing here. Then again, in Cosmo, God kinda forbid you be into anything. It's not just fetishes but even preferences they seem to be interested in squashing--the idea of a woman having authentic desires of her own doesn't much enter into it.

Cosmo does acknowledge that women want sex and pleasure, which is a step up from a purely "ways to please your man" model, but it can't take the idea of female desire much further than that. Sex in Cosmoland is a strangely homogenous blend of things that can be sketchily claimed as "natural", things that are presumed to look "sexy" to straight men, and things that don't threaten to be "abnormal" as judged by a heterosexual cisgendered monogamous vanilla person who is in about ninth grade.

To be fair to Cosmo, to be actually sadistic, to take pleasure directly from another's pain, really would be a horrific thing in the absence of communication and specific explicit consent. And the thing I can't quote from this article--because it isn't there--is the part where they even touch on these concepts. This isn't an advanced-level feminist-theory deal here. This is "honey, it would turn me on so much to treat you a little rough in bed, and you can stop it at any time and you can tell me 'no' right now, but would you be willing to try that?" You can seriously get this going with one sentence.

The closest Cosmo gets is suggesting that you watch a music video with bondage themes and murmur that you think it's hot. But the final paragraph is this:
Or you could not say anything and leave a pair of handcuffs by the bed. "Pick up a pair that are furry or a bright color," says Kerner. "Those are obviously more playful and will signal that you're just looking to have fun. When your guy catches sight of them, trust us, one or both of you will be naked in no time."
I guess that is communication of a sort. But it's the sort that leaves a whole lot of questions open--Who's going to be wearing these? What's going to happen when they're on? What is the appeal of this for you? If he doesn't want to do this, are there other kinky things you could agree on?--and judging by the jump cut to "will be naked," I don't think you're ever expected to address these things explicitly. Sex just happens!

Man, you want to talk about "rape culture"? (I've been reading up on this and have a couple in-depth non-fisk posts coming on the subject. Despite the name, it's about a lot more than just rape.) The idea that "sex just happens" is a major aspect of rape culture. If what "just happens" with those handcuffs is he slaps them on you and throws you down and starts fucking you roughly, the line between "how spontaneous and passionate!" and "oh God this isn't what I wanted at all" is... murky.

How about "oh God this isn't what I wanted at all, but it's not like killing me and he seems into it and I don't want to start a lot of drama, so I'll think of England and hope he finishes up quick"? That's not exactly rape, but it's a close relative and sometimes precursor of rape, and at any rate it sure as hell isn't what sex should be.

Check out this ad for "imitation whipped cream flavor vodka." (Ew.) Because the only reason a man would be ironing is because he's (hilariously, unrealistically, unmanningly) doing what a woman wants! Not because, he, I dunno, owns clothing that needs ironing. Or even that he lives in a household where clothes need ironing, and he's a part of that household. And as usual, there's an anti-male message partnered with the anti-female one--not only are you supposed to think "normally he would have a woman do that for him!", you're also supposed to think "without a woman around he'd be too slovenly and undisciplined to do that himself!"

I do like the male flesh in the ad, though. The vast majority of the ads in Cosmo feature sexy women with the implication "don't you want to look like her?", so it's nice to see a little acknowledgement that men can also be looked at.

Q: Do guys have signs they look for to guess whether a girl's going to be good in bed?
A: Yes. The top sign is that she's crazy--getting into fights, being super jealous, and just doing insane stuff. Why? If a woman acts like a maniac in public, there's a good chance she'll be as unrestrained in public.

No, this isn't followed by a "but seriously now," it's followed by directives on how to be just crazy enough (tell a dirty joke or a story about skinny-dipping! but not skinny-dipping with a boy! I'm not making this up!) without scaring guys off.

(By being "crazy" and doing "insane" stuff I'm fairly sure he does not mean suffering from painful and confusing mood and thought distortions. But of course not. You know what I mean, just sort of like a mentally ill person.)

This isn't really about mental health, though. It's about Madonnas and whores. Either a girl is a nice person but boring in bed, or she's great in bed but barely housetrained. There's no concept that a person could have more than one side to them, much less that self-control and respect for boundaries actually can lead to better sex.

And when I say "better," I don't mean like "oh life partner, that was such a mutually fulfilling experience." I mean growling, hands-on-wrists, sloppy wet, violently orgasmic sex. Trust me here. This boundary shit ain't just homework. Because once you've gone through the process of discovering what isn't a boundary and what wouldn't scare your partner off, of building trust that you can go off the standard script without going out of control, of demonstrating that you'll still see your partner as a whole and dignified person no matter how filthy they get... you can go places that would never be possible if sex just happened. Ecstatic, fluid-spattered places.


  1. Actually, my number one sign that a woman will be good with me in bed is not playing the sort of head games Cosmo encourages.

  2. OMG *yes* - thank you, Holly! That last paragraph is pure gold. (And also super hot.)


  3. I often feel I am surrounded by the sort of attitudes that Cosmo is a spokesperson for... I cannot explain to you just how much tension I have relieved by reading these Cosmocking articles you write. Laughter is such a nice way to avoid frustrated insanity.

  4. Looking forward so much to your posts on rape culture! I'm eager to see what you have to say on the subject.

  5. Goodness yes, on the boundaries thing! Someone who can't respect basic social expectations of behaviour (well--the ones that matter, not "no white after Labour Day!") is not likely to be a person who's going to respect individual expectations, either. And IDK about you, but no way am I letting someone like that tie me up or hit me or get anything near my soft bits. So--how, exactly, could sex with them be anything but stressful and restricted?

  6. Also - personally I find that "growling, hands-on-wrists, sloppy wet, violently orgasmic sex" is very often followed by "oh life partner, that was such a mutually fulfilling experience." ^_^

  7. When I was in my late teens I would joke with guys about bondage in order to suss out how they'd feel about me tying them up; they always assumed I was trying to let them know I was submissive. It could get truly ridiculous.

    Seriously - one time I was hanging out with a cute guy and the banter got to a place where he was mocking me (in a flirty way). I made some comment that he could use some discipline to keep him in line and too bad I didn't have my handcuffs handy. He grinned and said "Oooh, you like being tied up, eh?"

    So...I don't think I'll be "leaving handcuffs by the bed" as my one and only attempt at communicating what I want, thanks.

    Also, I get so fucking sick of the "crazy chicks are good in bed" stereotype. I've been friends with possessive, obsessive women before; they're monumentally self-obsessed ("STOP TALKING ABOUT YOUR SUICIDAL DEPRESSION AND HELP ME INTERPRET THIS TEXT FROM MY BF"). I don't see how not giving a shit about anyone's needs but your own could possibly translate to being good in bed.

    I also don't see how getting into fights translates into being "less inhibited" in bed. Since when does having a terrible temper have anything to do with feeling comfortable naked?

  8. holy crap i just realized

    seriously, you guys? we've all been missing the point. don't you see? all of this, the "make sure he knows you're not really sadistic", the way they always talk about even the most conventional forms of sex with a sort of half-embarrassed shrug and a deeply insecure smirk -- oh my god, toy handcuffs with purple fucking fake fucking fur on them? how could we all not see this for so long?

    you guys. they are doing sex IRONICALLY. ALL OF IT.


    and we are SO UNCOOL.

    PS XD

  9. I'm a man, and I know I only iron things when I'm drunk on cotton candy vodka. It always goes peachy, thanks for asking!

  10. There's also a certain sinister implication to "Why? If a woman acts like a maniac in public, there's a good chance she'll be as unrestrained in public." (Although I assume you meant to type private there)

    Acting like a maniac in public has absolutely NOTHING to do with what you want in the bedroom and assuming otherwise is tip-toeing dangerously close to saying someone is "asking for it." Ugh.

    And for the record? I have spent tonight lounging in bed in cotton pajamas with a book of crossword puzzles and a mug of tea I would have loved to have someone come over and beat me black and blue. SO.

  11. --My boyfriend's friends allege that he is whipped because he blows off Arkham Horror games to hang out with me. On the other hand, since the hangouts usually conclude in blowjobs, I kind of think he has the better end of this deal.

    --Uninhibited=mentally ill? Really? Social anxiety represent!

    --The sadists I've known tend to get off on my moans of pleasure during. Of course, most of my sadists were the formerly-vanilla variety, but still.

    --Furry handcuffs are terrible.

  12. Hmm... well, I don't know about signs that somebody is good in bed, but a sure sign that somebody is bad in bed is when they reply to "What do you like?" with "Oh, you know, I'm good with everything." It frustrates the heck out of me. I know you have boundaries, why won't you tell me what they are?!? Communicate, damn you!


    Oh, and Aaron Em, don't knock handcuffs with purple fur, I had a lovely pair of fuzzy pink ones until they were confiscated by airport security... stupid air canada.

    Although, in retrospect, yeah, maybe they should have come in a box that said "My first Bondage kit" on the side. Nostalgia improves everything.

  13. ...My (step)dad does all the ironing at my parents' house (and laundry, for that matter). And he's not particularly feminine or whipped or old.

    And seriously, for everything else it's getting to the point that I can't even respond save for a head shake and a disappointed sigh. If I have a daughter I am most certainly warning her against the Lies of Cosmo.

  14. Minuteye, I am so glad to know that someone ever in the history of anything has actually used those fuzzy, colorful handcuffs. I thought people only ever gave them as graduation or bachelorette party or whatever gifts to embaress their friends.

    Brilliant, Holly. Having sex with no prior discussion of what is happening with the handcuffs is much scarier than anything Cosmo thinks will make people think you're sadistic. Like, I don't know, talking with your partner about wanting to hit them.

  15. I think that "men want women who acts like a maniac in public" is the gender-reversed version of the "women want assholes" NiceGuy/PUA bullshit trope.

  16. Given that it's Cosmo, "maniac" might translate to "not a Cosmo girl." For example, a women who actually talks to guys she finds attractive, rather than attempting the mandated telepathic method.

    Odds are, reading it that way, that Cosmo is correct: that "maniac" will probably be better in bed.

  17. I was hoping you would mention the birth control breakthrough mentioned on the cover. What new way of fucking up our bodies are they pushing now?

  18. I really want to know what guys hate for me to wear to bed.

    I'm guessing it's sweatpants, but maybe Cosmo will surprise me and go with "front end of a two-person horse costume" or "wicker pants and a beret".

  19. ^^ Funnily enough, my boyfriend and, like, half the guys I know, claim to find women in sweatpants super hot.

  20. Anon - The birth control story is fairly legit and unamusing--they just talk about some new brands that are coming out (one claims to give lighter periods, and one includes folic acid, which is sort of strange as I thought the main purpose of folic acid supplements was to prevent birth defects)--and then do a basic review of existing birth control methods. Like most "Cosmo Gyno" stories, it's not super informative but it's nonoutrageous.

    Perversecowgirl - Cotton nightgowns or sleepshirts. Because those are cheap and comfortable and--worst of all--casual. A woman must never be casual in her duties of 24/7 sexual decoration and entertainment.

  21. Holly,

    It looks like the purpose of the supplement is to offset the loss of folic acid because birth control pills interfere with absorption. (It's needed for red blood cell production and lots of other systems, not just reproduciton.)

  22. I'm still trying to figure out how one reads Cosmo "unironically."

  23. >> Anonymous said...
    I'm a man, and I know I only iron things when I'm drunk on cotton candy vodka. It always goes peachy, thanks for asking! <<

    I *heart* this comment.


  24. :( I think girls in nightshirts are super hot. Stop ruining everything for me, Cosmo.

    I do hate it when someone comes to bed in a two-person horse costume though. Never know what to say.

  25. For the most part, I am a very shy person. When it comes to sex, though, I have always been very open with what I wanted and needed. It surprises me how many of my female friends are hesitant to talk to their lovers about what they want.

    If my husband comes to bed in a two person horse costume, I want to be the head. It seems easier to breath that way.

  26. The funny thing is, the more my hobbies and habits have become staid and possibly grandmotherly -- like knitting and watching cooking shows and enjoying babies -- the wilder my sexual hobbies and habits have become.

    Both are the result of me finding what I like and doing it and not giving a damn.

    I suspect, though, that wherever most women have internalized the madonna/whore dichotomy, or where they're around men who believe it, then even sexually adventurous women who want to appear to be Good Girls or Marriage Material will tone their responses down. And women who are socially wild (the kind of "crazy" they mean) may feel pressure to be more sexually adventurous even when they'd just like a romantic session of gentle lovemaking.

  27. This has been stuck in my head for a few days now....

    "How about "oh God this isn't what I wanted at all, but it's not like killing me and he seems into it and I don't want to start a lot of drama, so I'll think of England and hope he finishes up quick"? That's not exactly rape, but it's a close relative and sometimes precursor of rape, and at any rate it sure as hell isn't what sex should be."

    For years, this was pretty muc hthe only kind of sex I had. I finally left the guy I was with about two anda half years ago now, and just last fall I started actually procesisng how deeply fucked up our relatiship dynamic had been.

    I actually sent him a long e-mail pointing out how wrong it was (and I tried very hard not be balme-y about it, more that "we" had wound up in a fucked up place because I didn't communicate and he didn't notice, or didn't listen when I tentatively tried, though the word rape did come up ("it wasn't rape, but it came pretty close sometimes.")).

    I've lost contact with a few of our mutual friends since then, which is hard; I haven't heard anytihng back frmo him nor have I been given an opportunity to justify myself to any of them so I don't even know what he's said to them about the whole thing, but it's really hurtful.

  28. Holly, I agree that Cosmo is a horrible influence on women. That's why I don't give it any money by subscribing to it. Couldn't you, say, borrow women's magazines from the break room at work and talk about them?

  29. Hershele OstropolerMarch 14, 2011 at 12:00 PM

    I think girls in nightshirts are super hot.

    Yes! Legs! Access!

  30. Thank you so much for applying actual logic to Cosmo. I work at a gift shop in a mall and although we don't carry glossies we've got a bookshelf dedicated to feminine reading (including the oddly titled dating guide; "Hunting Season, the guide to capturing a man") I hate myself just a little for selling them.

  31. I would argue that one can (and I often do) have "growling, hands-on-wrists, sloppy wet, violently orgasmic" mutually fulfilling experiences with one's life partner.
    But in all seriousness, fantastic article yet again!