Friday, July 31, 2015

First, They Came For Cosmo...

An anti-porn group announced Wednesday that it had persuaded two major retailers to place Cosmopolitan magazine behind cover-blocking "blinders," the same kind used on adult magazines like Playboy.

Rite Aid and Delhaize America have agreed to the wrapped covers, Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, told Women’s World Daily. Rite Aid confirmed the decision to HuffPost. Delhaize, which owns Food Lion and Hannaford, has not returned a request for comment.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation changed its name from Morality in Media this year. The new name lends itself to empathy: Who wouldn’t want to fight sexual exploitation? Nobody, until perhaps finding out that to the center, "exploitation" really means "any sexual behavior it doesn't like." 

What are the group's qualms about Cosmo?

"Cosmo is actually just another porn magazine glamorizing and legitimizing a dangerous lifestyle -- pushing readers to try violent, group or anal sex," Hawkins told WWD.

The center's website also criticizes Cosmo for promoting casual sex and BDSM (bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism) and for providing detailed descriptions of sex acts.

A National Center on Sexual Exploitation spokeswoman told HuffPost that the group has "not called for removal or a boycott of Cosmopolitan," just that it be covered from public view and not sold to minors. Still, the group, which notes that it opposes all forms of pornography, calls the magazine "pornographic."

It's true that Cosmo has a serious diversity problem in its pages, offers ridiculous sex tips, pressures readers to live up to conventional beauty standards, and has historically had an unhealthy focus on "pleasing your man." But it’s also one of the few magazines that unabashedly celebrates female sexuality. Cosmo doesn’t pretend there is anything wrong with women wanting or liking sex, and it gives its readers extensive information about birth control.

Putting Cosmo behind blinders sends the message that sex and female sexuality are shameful. But then that is the implicit message behind many statements from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Its website's "Frequently Asked Questions" section is filled with scare-tactic misinformation like the scientifically unsupported claim that watching porn featuring adults leads users to seek out child porn. The FAQ section also essentially states that adult film actors can never truly consent to the work.

The group takes the position that all pornography is a form of exploitation:

Rarely do those being exploited truly give informed consent. This is where the person consenting has a full understanding of what they are agreeing to, the consequences, and the potential risks. Abuse of power or taking advantage of someone’s vulnerability, whether or not they said “yes,” is exploitation. One may consent and still be sexually exploited, as in the case of a porn model.

Aside from the fact that it’s insulting to say that adult human beings can’t tell whether they are being exploited, conflating victims of abuse and sex trafficking with all sex workers obscures the data and harms people in both groups. Hiding the cover of Cosmo also does nothing to help the real victims.

Should little kids be reading how-tos on oral sex? No, but we also don’t know many 8-year-olds who are going to the store and buying Cosmo on their own.

If parents fear the magazine will warp young minds, they can choose not to bring it into their homes. But it would do a lot more good if they talked to their children about healthy sexual behavior and supported comprehensive sexual education in schools.

Contact the author of this article.

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