On Cosmopolitan’s Lesbian Sex Guide: Thanks, But No Thanks

Cosmopolitan, after almost 50 years of being one of the most aggressively heteronormative women’s publications from newsstand to screen, has finally decided to throw the queers a bone — specifically, 28 (ways to) bone, if you wanna get punnily Cosmo-esque — by publishing its first ever lesbian sex guide.

The NSFW slideshow up at Cosmopolitan.com has been garnering praise from mainstream media. “Finally,” said Salon.com, “Cosmo is reaching out to lesbians.” “Hurrah,” cheered Huffington Post UK. The coverage has accompanied acknowledgement of Cosmo’s recent forays into broader LGBTQ editorial content, with pieces like “8 Things Not to Say to a Transgender Person,” “14 Things You Should Never Say to a Gay Man,” and (the extremely wonderful) “My Life as an Invisible Queer.”

With wide circulation of the lesbian sex guide, Cosmo continues to ride a PR high on its perceived social progressivism. The Hollywood Gossip trilled the slideshow “will receive no criticism from any sane male OR female.”

So now, here I am, an Allegedly Crazy Female Gay, arriving right on cue to crash this positivity party.

The piece, “28 Mind-Blowing Lesbian Sex Positions,” takes us on a whirlwind tour through what may as well be a straight teen boy’s X-rated sketchbook filled with his fantasies of two women Doing It. Not all of the positions actually fit this analogy super well — I doubt a high schooler would ever be creative enough to think up a move like “Defying Gravity” — but the way these women physically look make them seem more like the stuff of pornography-fueled male fantasy than they do accurate reflections of real-life queer women.

In the instructional slides, one woman is always white, while her partner is always either just as white, or two-shades-away-from-white (like, could easily be construed as a white lady with a tan). They’re all thin. And they’re all — from as much as an illustrated naked body can tell us, anyway — femme. Every single one has long hair, while many are also femininely accessorized: high heels, stockings, jewelry, lipstick.

I call bullshit. And I do so as a lesbian who occasionally wears high heels, jewelry, and lipstick. (I’ve never worn stockings in my life, but you get the point.) The authors of this guide went as far as to illustrate a woman wearing a pair of cat ears with matching heeled black booties, but couldn’t be bothered to extend those colorful imaginations far enough to depict a single person on the spectrum of masculine gender presentation.

June Thomas, writing for Slate, praised the guide for creating a space within the dominant culture that’s easily accessible by anyone questioning their sexuality, pointing out that “buying [explicitly queer] products requires something of a commitment to a gay identity.” Now, she says, “those who seek same-sex affirmation and practical sex advice need only turn to Cosmopolitan.com.” I’m all for the mainstream affirmation of queer identities, but within certain, diversified contexts; when only one very particular type of queer identity is affirmed, I’m not comfortable asserting that spaces like these are actually serving our community at all.

It’s also worth remembering that publications like Cosmopolitan.com are fueled by advertising, i.e. the need to sell us shit. Why are all these lesbians wearing high heels and lipstick? Probably, at least in part, because Cosmo’s bills get paid by ads pushing high heels and lipstick. Sorry, but I’m not interested in having my sexuality packaged into a neat little heteronormative box and sold to me.

While figuring out my own queerness, I didn’t have to out myself by buying Stone Butch Blues at my hometown bookstore; I simply scoured the internet, with all the freedom and (relative) anonymousness a 3a.m. tumble into the blogosphere rabbit hole affords. When I read this essay by Riese at Autostraddle, it was the closest I’d yet come to seeing my own experience articulated by another person.

You don’t have to have committed to a queer identity to Google stuff. And I feel as though a small-town 17-year-old trying to figure out how the hell she’s supposed to touch her girlfriend would be far better served by happening upon the tons of content by brilliant, funny, thoughtful queer women writing and creating all across the web than she would by an instructional for “The Hot Hair Salon.”

[Cosmopolitan.com (1)]
[Cosmopolitan.com (2)]
[Cosmopolitan.com (3)]
[Cosmopolitan.com (4)]
[Huffington Post]
[The Hollywood Gossip]

Read more from Shannon Keating at About.me

[Image of lips kissing via Shutterstock]