This originally appeared on Everyday Feminism. Republished here with permission.
Three million Americans read Cosmopolitan, a popular women’s magazine that features articles on fashion, beauty, and—most famously—sex.
It’s become somewhat of a cultural icon—the place where women go to seek information and advice about sexuality and relationships.
And while women feeling empowered to take their sexuality into their own hands is certainly positive, this particular avenue is problematic. Cosmo isn’t exactly known for its factually accurate reporting.
And if you aren’t in a heterosexual relationship with two cisgender partners who take on traditional gender roles, then sorry! Your experiences aren’t going to be included.
Furthermore, the content is problematic in and of itself since most of Cosmo’s articles are focused, not on how to improve your relationship with yourself and your body, but on how to please and satisfy (male) partners.
And almost all of the suggestions revolve around “spicing things up”—as if trying “new” and “exciting” things in bed is going to solve all of your problems.
These “tips” aren’t actually helpful, and they aren’t giving women the factual and comprehensive information about sex that they probably need, considering how few women understand their bodies, let alone their psychology around sexuality.
So, here are 10 helpful tips that can actually lead you to having a satisfying sex life—advice that Cosmo has never told you and probably never will.
1. You and Your Partner Should Be Concerned with Your Pleasure
So many of Cosmo’s sex articles are geared toward pleasing men. Headlines like Sex He Craves, What He Thinks During Sex, Arouse Him Like Crazy, and How to Keep Your Guy Totally Turned on By You give you an idea of just who the articles focus on.
Because of how male-dominated our culture is, women have almost nowhere to go to find accurate information on their own sexual pleasure—not even publications supposedly written for them.
If this isn’t a blatant example of the male gaze, I don’t know what is.
In actuality, all partners should have sexual pleasure, and the focus should not only be on one of you.
Ideally, you all should be experiencing pleasure (and maybe even having orgasms!), and you should be talking about the needs of everyone involved.
Communicate. Tell one another what you want. Not sure? Then experiment! See what feels good, and try that.
And if your partner doesn’t want to do this or doesn’t care about making sure that you’re having fun, then maybe they aren’t the best partner for you.
2. Great Sex = Great Communication
I already touched on this in the last list item, but it’s so important that it merits its own section: Communication is everything when it comes to sex.
Sex isn’t about putting new moves on someone and hoping they appreciate and reciprocate. It’s about talking about and expressing what you need and want, as well as what your partner needs and wants.
It’s about saying “more of this,” or “I really like it when you do that.”
It’s about saying “I don’t enjoy when you do that,” “That doesn’t feel good,” and even just saying “stop.”
And one of the best places to talk about sex is actually outside of the bedroom.
Create a safe space with your partner where you can talk about anything and don’t feel like there is something you can’t say. Find a time when you are both mentally and emotionally available, sit down, and talk about your sex life.
And then…be honest.
3. Make Sure You Know How to Prevent STI’s If You Want To
If you want to avoid infections and diseases, then you need to make sure you are always taking precautions. Cosmo never seems to address this important part of sexual health.
If either you or your partner (or both!) hasn’t been tested, use a barrier method like an internal or external condom or a dental dam.
It’s also important to get tested regularly. But “regularly” means different things for different people. Ideally, you should get tested after each new partner, but if you can only swing every six months or every year, that works, too.
4. It’s Perfectly OK Not to Be a ‘Freak’ in Bed
Cosmo often writes articles about how to spice things up in the bedroom, since according to their philosophy, you always have to keep your partner guessing and on their toes. In some cases, people even justify cheating by saying that things weren’t interesting anymore or that the sex was boring.
There’s this immense pressure, especially because we live in a society that demonizes sex in anything other than a monogamous relationship, to be “keeping things interesting.”
But, who’s to say if your sex life is boring? Do we really need to change our habits? Or is it our mindset that’s the problem?
Many people also feel really uncomfortable about this because they don’t want to get “freaky.” Some people are perfectly happy with the “vanilla” sex that they are having.
But articles like the ones that Cosmo features pressure women to feel like they have to keep doing circus tricks in order to keep their partner interested—never mind whether or not you enjoy it.
The reality is that whatever you feel comfortable doing (or not doing) is perfectly OK. You don’t need to spice things up if you don’t want to or if you don’t see a need for it. It’s your sex life, so do it your way.
5. You Don’t Need to Change Your Body to Have Better Sex
Your body is beautiful just the way it is. And while this might sound cliché, it’s still true.
Be suspect of anyone who ever tells you that you need to change something about your body. Never assume that you are the problem. Because you aren’t. Society is.
Cosmo reinforces a lot of body-negative, fat-shaming cultural garbage, and it’s important to remember that none of it is true. It’s all based on the lie that thin is healthy and attractive, and that fat is ugly and obscene.
Losing 10, 20, or 50 pounds or doing 20 minutes of an abs workout per day isn’t going to make your sex life better. Getting breast implants isn’t going to make you feel sexier. And using Ben-Wa balls to “tighten up” your vagina isn’t going to give you any more pleasure.
What they’re selling you is all a sexist game. Refuse to play.
6. There Really Is No Pressure
Seriously, there is none.
You don’t need to have sex at any point other than when you’re ready, you don’t need to have anal sex if that’s not your thing, and you don’t need lingerie to entice your partner.
Sex should be fun. It should be enjoyable, carefree, and make you feel good.
You shouldn’t feel pressured to do a certain thing, act a certain way, perform a certain act, do a certain thing at a certain right time in order not to be a slut.
If you’re partner is pressuring you, talk to them about it. If they don’t stop, then consider cutting ties.
You deserve to be respected. And that means that sex shouldn’t be a result of manipulation or coercion.
7. Great Sex Doesn’t Need to End in an Orgasm
There’s this sexist, heteronormative myth that sex ends when the male partner ejaculates in his partner’s vagina. I’m really tired of this myth.
Sex ends when you decide it does.
There is no certain point that makes it officially over or means that you need to stop. You make the rules.
Sex doesn’t have to end in orgasm. It can end whenever you want to it to. And if you’re not having orgasms but want to, talk to your partner about this and come up with ways to address it.
8. Great Sex Doesn’t Have to Be with a Man
Cosmo assumes that all of their readers identify as women and that all of their sexual and romantic partners identify as men.
We know that this is far from reality.
Great sex has nothing to do with the orientation or gender identity of the person you’re having it with.
9. Great Sex Always Involves Consent
Consent has to be present for sex to take place. Otherwise, it’s assault. Period.
Consent is about respect. It’s also about mutual desire. And it has nothing to do with coercion or perceived carelessness.
If your partner respects you, they are going to make sure that they have your consent. Clearly. Without any assumptions.
And if you respect your partner, you’re going to do the same.
Respect—in and of itself—makes for great sex.
10. You Can Have Great Sex with Yourself
Sex in Cosmo, and in practically every outlet in society, assumes that you have a partner. But the fact is: Sex does not have to involve another person in order to happen.
Masturbation tends to be erased from our cultural perspective because it’s so ridden with shame and taboo. But we know that masturbation is normal, pleasurable, and healthy.
Having great sex with yourself can also lead you to have great sex with future or current partners.
It helps you learn more about your sexuality and your body, and as a result, can help you better articulate your desires. You can show them where to touch, what to do, how to do it, and for how long.
So please, masturbate, if you want to. Explore your body. Navigate your desires. You might be glad that you did.
Cosmo has a lot to say about sex.
But what they have to say is based on tired stereotypes, heteronormativity, and traditional gender roles. As such, most of their “advice” is anything but helpful.
So instead, remember these rules for having great sex.
And more importantly, write your own.
Because anther rule of great sex is that the rest is still unwritten.
Erin is an e-activist, video blogger, student and non-profit advocate. As a fierce feminist, she has launched several projects including Fearless Feminism and Consent is Sexy, a web series about healthy sexuality. You can find her blogging at Fearless Feminism, Facts About Feminism, and Period Positive.