Cosmo and the zipless f*ck

Cover 

I love Cosmopolitan Magazine, I really do. Where else can you find so much information on how to be an unpaid prostitute?

Founder Helen Gurley Brown intended Cosmo to be sexually liberating for its women readers, a feminist sexual manifesto. The Cosmo of 2009 has evolved to extol the benefits of women being unpaid sex slaves. How did we get from there to here?

In many ways, Cosmo has simply reflected changing attitudes toward sex. Originally meant to demonstrate to women that there was more to sex than satisfying a husband, Cosmo has turned a full 180 degrees to demonstrate that there is nothing more to sex than satisfying a boyfriend. At least in the presumably repressed early 1960’s sex promised a husband, children, and lifelong economic support. Now sex promises nothing more than an evening’s activity, that, if done the Cosmo way, will leave the man satisfied and the woman happy that she satisfied the man. So much for feminism.

The ideal Cosmo sexual encounter is Erica Jong’s “zipless fuck.” In her 1973 book, Fear of Flying, Jong described the zipless fuck.

The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game. The man is not “taking” and the woman is not “giving.” … No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is.

Sex without strings. The original “friends with benefits.” Jong has said that she meant the zipless fuck as an expression of feminism: sex for no other reason than the protagonists wanted to have sex. But people often forget that Jong said of the zipless fuck: “And it is rarer than the unicorn.” Or that Jong’s heroine did not feel liberated by her sexual relationship with a man other than her husband.

Even the protypical zipless fuck did not work out as planned. According to reviewer Christina Nehring, writing in The Atlantic:

But here’s an irony: Fear of Flying demonstrates the unavailability of the zipless fuck. Far from being an inspirational story (as it is routinely billed) of a woman’s escape from a dead marriage and discovery of erotic pleasure and independence, it’s the tale of a woman who ditches her husband only to find in the arms of a lover first impotence and frustration, then heartbreak and abandonment. The end of the novel has Jong’s protagonist returning ruefully to her spouse …

Cosmo seems to have missed the news that sex without strings is not all it’s cracked up to be. Moreover, Cosmo appears to define “sex without strings” as “without strings for the man.” Cosmo is all about “catching” a man, but the underlying assumption is that men don’t want to be tied down. Therefore, in order to have a boyfriend, or even a casual sexual encounter, Cosmo instructs women to sublimate any needs and desires that they may have.

The April 2009 issue is a case in point.  The cover article, Just Do This on Date #1 (and he’s yours), is basically a compendium of “relationship tips” that involve emphasizing that “he” has no obligations to you. It advises not to tell him too much about yourself (TMI is a sexual turnoff) and not to text him simply because you’ve had sex; sure he had sex with you, but it’s texting that implies a more serious commitment.

Another cover article, What Guys Crave After Sex, advises acting like nothing more than an unpaid prostitute: compliment him, bring him a drink of water because he might be thirsty from his heroic performance. Most importantly, let him know that you’ve got to leave soon. That lets him know you aren’t foolish enough to believe that the fact that he had sex with you means that he wants to be with you.

Cosmo is dismally similar to 1950’s attitudes about sex. It’s a woman’s job to “put out” for her husband, whether it serves her needs or not. That was her part of the bargain; she provided sex in exchange for children and economic security. Then there was the prostitute. It was her job (literally) to “put out” for the customer in exchange for money. The Cosmo 2009 attitude toward sex is that it’s a woman’s job to “put out” for a man. And what does a woman get in exchange? Nothing of course.  Merely hinting that she might have needs is enough to drive any man away.

Cosmo was founded by a woman, but it’s difficult to believe that it wasn’t founded by a man whose ideal of womanhood was the star of a porno movie: always available, always sexually satisfied, never demanding anything other than more sex. That view of women, the view espoused by Cosmo, is profoundly misogynistic. Women are nothing more than sex toys. They may have thoughts, feelings and needs for interaction other than sex, but they should be sure to keep that to themselves.

 The zipless fuck doesn’t exist, as even Erica Jong’s heroine found out. Women don’t want or need sex without strings. Too bad the folks at Cosmo have not yet figured that out.

  • AlisonCummins

    Which women don’t want or need sex without strings? It might not always be what I want, but sometimes it is. Sometimes I have enough strings in other parts of my life that I don’t need more.

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