An Open Letter To Cosmo Magazine: You Lied To Me About Sex

Despite what the pages of Cosmopolitan have said for decades, men need romance too.

Dear Cosmopolitan Magazine,

Imagine my shock when this week I discovered that you have been lying to me and American women for decades now. Ninety percent of young women in America look to you as a significant source of sexual education, and now we discover that you have just been making stuff up.

You told us that the best way to show a man that we care is to give him lots and lots of recreational sex in every imaginable place, position, way, and orifice. But you never once told us that men need romance. In fact, you heavily implied that even a whiff of romance can make a man go psycho or send him running from us like a horse from a snake. I believed you when you told me that lovemaking was a childish euphemism for good old fashioned fucking, that sex and love were two very different things, and that letting them overlap could only lead to pain and heartbreak.

Now we have real research* about relationships, not just marriages, but all kinds of loving, happy relationships. And guess what? Men need romance. In fact they are more distressed by its absence than are women. And they aren’t just using the word romance as a euphemism for sex. They want candlelit dinners, back-rubs, hand-holding, massages, and baths. And what is more, having “efficient but not romantic orgasms” is far less effective in producing a happy relationship than “making love—a deep physical and emotional connection.”

Do you have any idea how much trouble you have caused? I am sure there are millions of relationships with “Cosmo advice” listed as the cause of death. In fact, the combination of your sex tips for women and advice for how to satisfy a man nearly killed my marriage to a man I deeply love and who dearly loves me.

As ridiculously stupid as it seems in retrospect, I got much of my education about how to be sexual from your pages. I was young and thought that anything that didn’t tell me to keep my legs closed and encouraged me to act in some ways like a man was feminism. So I looked to you as the authority on how to have a liberated and happy sex life.

You taught me that men like “low-maintenance women” who do not require things like cuddles and romance. And you assured me in hundreds of articles, that what would truly blow my guy’s mind and make him hanker for me every day for the rest of his life was showing sexual assertiveness. That last one could have been helpful had you really meant for me to find what made me sexually tick and then ask for it. As one researcher put it: The kind of sexual assertiveness you suggest is “performed deliberately to gratify, entice, or arouse male partners or to prevent male partners in monogamous relationships from cheating.”

I have to give you credit for one thing: I had some pretty great sexual moves. You will be happy to know that when I run into old lovers years after we have broken up they often tell me that sex with me was some of the best they ever had. As much as that gives my ego a boost, and I am very happy to have given guys so much pleasure, Cosmo sex has taken an enormous toll on my psyche, my love life, and my marriage.

Thanks to your advice, I was doing live sex shows for an audience of one. And when I met my husband, Pete, he saw right through my performance. He was not, as you predicted, aroused to distraction. He was unamused and completely turned off by what he called “sex as service.”

So there I was, married to someone I loved. And since that person was a man, according to you he should have been perpetually frantic to get into my panties. Instead, he wanted to do things like cuddle, and give me a back massage. At first I saw this as a sweet but utterly unnecessary ploy to have sex with me, and so upped my whole Cosmo sex game. I consulted you to make sure my blow-jobs were world-class and that I was offering him sex that was nothing short of Cirque Du Soleil Gone Wild. I struck out—badly and humiliatingly.

Meanwhile, my husband kept asking for crazy stuff like kissing gently in the dark or taking a shower by candlelight. I panicked and forgot that we had amazingly good chemistry before we started having intercourse (which, not incidentally, was where your wonderful advice had entered the picture.) For a little while, I worried that he might be gay or that he had a kink he couldn’t bring himself to tell me about. But thanks to you, I was always fairly certain that the real problem was that I was just not attractive enough.

In fairness, my husband does differ from the men you write about in one fairly significant way: He is a real live human being, not a gendered stereotype. As it turns out, his desire to nurture me and show me affection does not stop at our bedroom door nor is it drowned out by the noise of his libido. He gets turned on by love, kindness, romantic gestures, and affectionate touch, not the ability to do a full 180 without dismounting.

And here are some other amazing facts: There really is such a thing as making love and it is different from sex. And some men really are into cuddling and most need romance. In fact, those things, not gratuitous boob flashes in public, are what turns my husband on. And, what he wants from a partner is someone who asks for what she wants, not who pretends to want things just to turn him on.

This is where your advice has led us. After 15 years of marriage, we have to start pretty much from the top. We now know that our problem isn’t my husband’s libido. It is his preference for making love and his disdain for Cosmo sex. I have to figure out how to stop being a Cosmo girl and how to romance a man.

Clearly, you have been wrong about almost everything as our experience and the research clearly show. It seems incredible to me that you could be so wrong so often and never have to issue a retraction, let alone be held accountable for the pain and suffering that your advice has caused.

It is equally obvious to me that you are not going to do the responsible thing and publish articles called “Men Are Complicated And Have Feelings” or “Nine Sex Tips That May or May Not Work With Your Lover.” So how about if instead, you put a disclaimer on your relationship articles like the ones found in ads for phone-psychics: “Intended for entertainment purposes only.” At least then we would know that your articles are as scientifically and factually grounded as a 2am reading from Madam Zelda. And I, for one, will do my part to make sure that no one ever again mistakes you for a legitimate source of sexual education.

*This paragraph contains research results and a quote from the book: The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples and What They Reveal About Creating a New Normal in Your Relationship. The book reports on an international study of more than 25,000 happy relationships. Thankfully, the researchers did not confine themselves to straight married couples, and their results reflect the diversity of loving relationships.

Lynn Beisner is the pseudonym for a mother, a writer, and a feminist living somewhere East of the Mississippi. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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