Cosmo does have a “Sex and Relationships" section, but it’s buried in a sub-menu and, honestly, it’s also mostly sex positions and articles like “16 Subtle, Super Fast Ways to Turn Yourself On.” Not exactly “relationship” advice.
But this trend — this notion that “relationships” equal “sex” — isn’t unique to Cosmo. Okay, Cosmo is probably the most graphic of all the popular non-porn magazines, but plenty of other magazines make the mistake — or overt ideological choice — to elevate sex over every other aspect of a relationship. In fact, if you read these magazines regularly (though I don’t know why you would), a trend will quickly emerge: Sex — any sex at all — is not only an end in and of itself, but takes precedence over pretty much everything.
If readers of these magazines (and others like them) take this dating advice seriously, it’s no wonder we find ourselves immersed in “hookup culture.” To demonstrate this trend, I pulled three articles from three different popular magazines which purport to offer dating advice: Cosmopolitan, GQ, and HuffPost.
“I’m Cheating on My Husband Because He Refuses to Go Down on Me”: Cosmopolitan
In this article, a woman (who chooses to remain anonymous for obvious reasons) tries to explain why her husband’s unwillingness to perform a particular sexual act absolves her from cheating on him. “And the kicker,” she complains. “He’s never gone down on me. Not once.” So she decides that “instead of denying myself this experience, I’d just have to get it somewhere else.”
Here is a woman who believes that sex — not even sex, just one particular sex act! — takes precedence over her marriage vows, her children’s happiness (she has two toddlers), her husband’s feelings...everything. This woman is willing to abandon everything worthwhile in her life for a chance to receive sexual gratification in a particular way.
Sex for the sake of sex is cheap sex. And sex that requires you to renege on your marriage vows is nothing short of disastrous.
The advice that Cosmo's readers are meant to take away from this article is that their sexual pleasure is of the utmost importance. This message is meant to be “empowering” — you are a sexual being with sexual needs and those needs deserve to be met. But, while sex is an important part of a marriage, it’s not your own gratification that’s paramount, it’s the physical expression of the love you and your husband share. Sex for the sake of sex is cheap sex. And sex that requires you to renege on your marriage vows is nothing short of disastrous.
“How to Initiate a Friends with Benefits Situation”: GQ
“It’s normal to want casual sex,” insists Sophia Benoit, in an article coaching people on how to bring up the idea of sleeping with a friend. She goes on to reassure us: “You’re probably not going to ruin a friendship by respectfully suggesting a low-key bone sesh.” Why? Because everybody’s after random hookups, and a “friend” isn’t going to be creepy or weird.
Here, again, is this idea that our sexual urges must be gratified at all costs. Rather than viewing sex as something special and important, popular magazines are now coaching us to give in to our sexual “needs” as frequently as possible. We “deserve” it! (In which case we probably also deserve the STDs and failed relationships that will ultimately result from this lifestyle choice as well.)
Benoit insists that “friends with benefits” relationships are “worth it.” She explains, “They’re a great way to get fun, safe, and quality sex if you aren’t in a good place in your life for a relationship.” But, if you aren’t in a good place in your life for a relationship, you’re not in a good place in your life for having sex!
If you aren’t in a good place in your life for a relationship, you’re not in a good place in your life for having sex!
“Our Marriage Survived — And Thrived — When We Opened It Up”: HuffPost
Cathy and Thomas want you to know that inviting a third person into your marriage — in their case, a woman named Nicole — is a wonderful way to foster intimacy. (No, I’m not joking, read the article.) They even have a kid who calls this random third person in his parents’ relationship “Auntie Nicole,” and who his parents insist isn’t phased by this insane situation at all. (Yeah right.)
Cathy explains that “monogamy is wonderful when you first meet someone, but we feel that relationships always change over time, and being open allows us to accommodate this.” What she means is her sexual interest in her husband changed as their relationship changed, and she didn’t like that, so she brought someone else into their relationship. So there it is again: this idea that our sexual desires and “needs” hold more importance than our marriage vows or our children’s welfare.
Cathy says, “Inevitably, we reached a point when we started to find other people attractive.” Sure, we all find other people physically attractive from time to time, but we don’t invite them into our homes and into our beds! Yet again, these articles are assuming that because human beings have sexual urges we must act on them.
We must weigh our priorities, and — if we want to be truly happy and emotionally healthy — our marriages and our children should take top spot every single time.
But, actually, the opposite is true. Because we have base urges, we must control and channel them. And we must weigh our priorities, and — if we want to be truly happy and emotionally healthy — our marriages and our children should take top spot every single time.
Articles like these are like the devil on your shoulder, coaching you to give in to all your basest urges. This notion that our sexual urges are somehow paramount has trivialized everything we ought to hold dear — including sex. This worldview simultaneously elevates sex to the utmost importance and trivializes it such that it can be performed with anyone at all.
But there’s no way to scratch every sexual itch and maintain a healthy, loving marital relationship. When popular magazines start coaching us to choose the sexual itch over the marital relationship something has gone horribly wrong. Perhaps it’s time to rethink everything (and never click on Cosmo again).