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Just when you thought the silliest thing that US Cosmopolitan magazine had come up with recently was telling women to get their boyfriends to pile refrigerated loose change on their vulvas, a piece written recently for US Cosmo’s online presence has really shot the mag into a new stratosphere of questionable “journalism”.

There’s not really any way to introduce it other than to quote heavily from the article:

“Jennifer Landa, MD, author of The Sex Drive Solution for Women, recently suggested women spice up masturbationwith a public session only you know about (meaning, you drop a vibrator in your underpants rather than going out in public bottomless). [...] My editor assigned me this essential piece of field reporting, because everyone else who writes for Cosmopolitan.com is sane and I am therefore the de facto Earl of Sexual Humiliation. I decided to make a pit stop in the People’s Republic of Hands-Free Diddling on my way uptown to (appropriately) therapy. The train ride from Brooklyn to 57th Street would be long enough for me to make sex to myself and then scamper into a different car like an unshowered deviant.”

Yes, bringing a new level of unfortunate meaning to the NQR LinesCosmo writer Anna Breslaw was commanded to get her rocks off on the Q train, all in the name of… investigative journalism? Empowerment? I would really love to have been a fly on the wall in that editorial meeting: “So we’ve got the interview with Nina Dobrev, the fall fashion spread, an online gallery of Ryan Gosling photos… oh and Anna, can you bring yourself to climax on the subway? 

(I appreciate that journalism and new media is a competitive market these days, but if I were Breslaw I’d be considering going my editor for sexual harassment rather than filing my copy.)

Like me, The Gloss’ Samantha Escobar is at a loss as to precisely how or why this piece was greenlit, let alone run. She makes the salient point that there are people/readers/idiots who would excuse this sort of behaviour simply because Breslaw is a woman. “Historically (and, let’s be honest, currently), female sexuality has been suppressed. Society, the entertainment industry and the media want women to be sexual objects, but not sexually active; to be coy and sexy, but still virginal; to please others, but never please themselves. For this reason, I think talking about female masturbation is a wonderful thing. But I am very, very cautious about making exceptions for people publicly masturbating based on gender.”

Let me tell you a little story: I was in the park a month or so ago, looking at the roses in bloom, when I accidentally locked eyes upon a bloke having a very urgent toss in the middle of a flower bed. Though I initially considered yelling “PUT IT AWAY, MATE!”, in the end - after he started staring at me and really going for it - the experience was so disturbing that I ended up crying in front of a large pack of tourists and tearily reporting it to the local cops.

Now, had I locked eyes on a young new media journalist giving herself a guilty tingle with a pocket vibe in the middle of that rose garden, would I have reacted differently? Would I have waved my hands in the air and shouted “You go girl!” and marched off feeling empowered? No.

As Escobar notes, with regards to the fact that Breslaw wasn’t whipping it out on the train (and, ergo, the fact that what she did was excusable), “What people don’t know can’t hurt them, right? But then, I contemplate realizing a guy sitting down the train was masturbating and didn’t think I realized it. I would be very uncomfortable. While I don’t think that was Breslaw’s intention, it could have been the outcome.”

Whether or not you consider Cosmo a feminist text - the magazine’s founder, Helen Gurley Brown, certainly declared herself in so many words - this sort of “advice” isn’t exclusive to glossy magazines. There’s a spurious undercurrent to “sex positive” feminism that tries to push the agenda that things like wanking in public are empowering and help to set one’s true self free, and other absolute bunkum.

In a piece on “sex-negative feminism” (buzzwords abound in the new era), Jillian Horowitz nailed one of the major flaws in sex-positive (or, if we take the Cosmo model, just sex-mad) feminism: “Sex is not a realm separate from politics — it is always already political and social and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Kinks are not necessarily harmless.  Even the notion of consent, considered by so many to be a simple matter, is problematic — in a patriarchal society where women’s agency is circumscribed by male supremacy, how meaningful is consent? These issues are purposefully obscured by sex-positive feminists who believe that sex is an inherent good and that to feel otherwise is somehow aberrant, abnormal, a position that should be remedied.”

This Cosmo piece is a good example of this sort of thought process: why not emulate the behaviour of creepy weirdos on public transport that has for decades made us feel uncomfortable at best and violated at worst? Why not put some cold money on your moot? Why not drag the tines of a fork up and down your boyfriend’s thigh and drive him wild?

Or, why not stick a fork in me, I’m done with this “sex as empowerment” nonsense.