News & Politics

Cosmo Pulled from Walmart Checkout Lines: Anti-Sex Advocates Cheer

FILE - This 1990 file photo shows Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown in her New York office. Brown, longtime editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, died Monday, Aug. 13, 2012 at a hospital in New York after a brief hospitalization. She was 90. (AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler, File)

Retail giant Walmart has pulled the women’s magazine Cosmopolitan from its checkout lines. The move came at the urging of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which said in a statement that Cosmo features content on “pornography, sexting, BDSM, group sex, [and] anal sex.”

There is an argument to be made that a magazine like Cosmo should not be in a checkout line where children can see it and ask mommy all sorts of uncomfortable questions.  And the magazine has, in the last several years, turned to raunch, vulgarity, and exotic sex to attract younger women who have been coarsened by a hypersexualized culture.

The magazine is under attack from both the left and the right, from anti-porn feminists and evangelicals who believe that Cosmo objectifies women and offers advice on sex practices that many find abhorrent or degrading.

But the value of Cosmo has always been that it has been the standard bearer for the simple, human right that declares women should be able to enjoy sex as much as, if not more than, men. What has made this a revolutionary message since Helen Gurley Brown took over as chief editor in the 1960s has been the pushback from a male-dominated society that refused to acknowledge the existence of a woman’s sexual pleasure, or defined it in the context of a female’s ability to satisfy a man.

Cosmo changed that. The magazine empowered women — sometimes frankly, sometimes with an uproarious sense of humor — to explore, to discover, to experiment, to wring every last drop of pleasure out of their sexual lives that they deserve.

Yes, that’s revolutionary. And many people hated it.

Perhaps just as importantly, Cosmo instructed women how they could gently guide their partners and husbands in how best to give them sexual pleasure. This may come as a shock to many men, but we are not born with the knowledge of how to best pleasure a woman sexually, nor are we psychics who can sense what an individual woman likes by reading her mind.  Cosmo helped open new lines of communication between women and men in the bedroom that led to better communication in other aspects of a relationship.

Both women and men are more knowledgeable about the sharing aspect of sex today as a result of Cosmo‘s devotion to the simple idea that sexual pleasure is enhanced when both partners can satisfy one another. We take that for granted today. It wasn’t too long ago when we couldn’t.

To be sure, Cosmo has always displayed a hedonistic approach to sex that doesn’t sit well with many people of faith. And yes, we could do without the graphic portrayal and description of some sexual practices. But there is a simple rule of thumb: What happens in an individual’s bedroom is their own damn business and if they want to read about it and learn about it, well, this is America, love it or leave it.

Some see this move by Walmart as bending the knee to the #MeToo movement:

Amanda McKelvey of Business Insider:

There is a streak of puritanism in the #MeToo movement that seeks to de-sexualize women. For thousands of years of human civilization women have used sex and their sexual allure to control and manipulate men. This is real power and while it makes some feminists uncomfortable, it is a weapon that most men don’t have. Do women really want to lose that ability, or find themselves ostracized for exercising it?

The magazine business is dying anyway and Cosmo is not likely to be one of the last survivors. But their work is largely done. They have changed the conversation about sex so that tens of millions of women who may, in the past, have lived lives of quiet desperation, bereft of intimacy and sexual pleasure, can now unashamedly claim their birthright as human beings to enjoy the physical act of love.