Day 18, Part One: Safe Sex FAIL

Okay, so kudos to Cosmo for writing an article on safer sex (“How to Outsmart STDs”, The Cosmo Health Report, pages 186-189). However, this piece could have been much better if:

  • It wasn’t so freakin’ heteronormative
  • It didn’t over-sensationalize the risks associated with certain STIs

The sensational attitude starts right at the beginning of the article:

The stats are almost enough to make you swear off hooking up: Even before they hit the age of 25, close to 50 percent of adults have or once had a sexually transmitted disease, and young women have the highest odds of contracting one. There’s also a bigger issue at stake for women: Untreated STDs cause an estimated 24,000 females to become infertile every year.


I understand that infertility can be devastating to some couples attempting to conceive, but infertility is a hell of a lot more complex than Cosmo is making it out to be. And really, I would imagine that the more dangerous symptoms of certain untreated STIs would be a bigger medical concern than infertility. Infertility is bad, but what happens to someone who is HIV+ and can’t get treatment is a hell of a lot worse.

There’s a lot more FAIL, but I’d figure I’d mention the rest of the non-FAIL stuff first:

  • Cosmo mentions that STI’s can be transmitted from unprotected oral sex. Which will hopefully be the wake-up call that my “Well-I’m-technically-a-virgin-but-I-give-out-blowjobs-like-candy-but-that’s-different-because-that’s-not-really-sex” friends* need. Even if you’re just giving/receiving oral, GET FREAKING TESTED, and use protection (condoms and dental dams, natch).
  • Cosmo goes pretty in-depth about using condoms correctly. They talk about the best and worst placed to store condoms (don’t keep them in an overstuffed wallet), that condoms should fit snugly, but with room for semen to collect, and that women should have condoms on hand in case their male significant other puts on one that doesn’t fit. They also talk about h fact that you can get pregnant/STIs from pre-cum, so a condom needs to be put on ASAP. Overall, surprisingly good advice coming from Cosmo.

However, Cosmo manages to taint (hehe, “taint”) this piece with a healthy dose of FAIL. This FAIL includes:

  • Needless Paranoia and Stigma: If over 50% of the population has, or has had an STI, why the sensationalistic tone? If STIs are so common, why is there this perceived “us versus them” vibe going on? Plus, of the seven STIs they mention, three are bacterial and can be cured with antibiotics (Trichomoniasis, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea), one can be prevented with a vaccine (HPV), and two are viral, and incurable, but can be controlled with medications (Herpes, HIV). Also, not everyone who has a strain of the herpes simplex virus got it through sexual contact. My fabulous blog friend Britni wrote a great post about the stigma attached to those who get cold sores and other strains of the herpes simplex virus. This paranoia and stigma associated with STIs doesn’t do anything but make it more difficult for those with STIs to seek treatment. Instead of being judgey, what if Cosmo included information of resources for STI prevention, testing, and treatment?
  • Slut Shaming: In the blurb “Swear Off Drunken Hookups”, Cosmo says “Not to mention the fact that you could be so out of it you wouldn’t even know what really happened or who it happened with”. Okay, getting so drunk/high that you pass or black out isn’t a good thing. But it NEVER excuses or justifies someone using your compromised state to sexually assault you.
  • Heteronormativity and Phallocentrism: Even when discussing oral sex (as opposed to vaginal sex), Cosmo remains heteronormative and phallocentric. Evidently, no one informed Cosmo that queer women exist, and that an article on safer sex shouldn’t assume that all sex is performed between a man and a woman. Nothing is mentioned about dental dams, how to have safe anal or manual sex, material safety when it comes to sex toys, safer sex and disability, special concerns of sex workers, or safer sex in BDSM relationships. Cosmo only sacrifices the safety of its readers by having a dangerously narrow viewpoint on sex and safer sex.

Yes, this article isn’t as bad as listening to a lecture by Pam Stenzel. But there is still a lot of room for improvement when it comes to Cosmo’s advice on sex and sexuality, and it’s extremely disappointing that Cosmo decided to sell their readership short when it comes to providing information on safer sex practices.

    *Let me make this clear: It’s not the casual oral sex that irritates me, it’s the “You can’t stop me, I’m the Gingerbread man” attitude about non-penis in vagina sex, and the belief that oral sex is “not really sex”. Yes, it actually is sex, so PLEASE GET TESTED REGULARLY. Kthx.

    This entry was posted in Advice, Cosmo, Heteronormativity, Rape Culture, Sex, Sexism, Slut-Shaming, Women and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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