The granddaughter of the founder of the Hearst media empire has launched a campaign to restrict children and teens’ access to Cosmopolitan magazine — one of the company’s publications — over its obsession with explicit sexual topics.
Cosmopolitan has gone from a women’s family magazine to “a sex rag,” Victoria Hearst, whose grandfather is William Randolph Hearst, said Wednesday at a press conference with the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.
Ms. Hearst, a devout Christian, recalled being alarmed years ago by a Cosmo cover in which a woman was photographed naked except for a “strategically placed boa constrictor.” Despite her family relationship, Ms. Hearst said her complaints were rebuffed by corporation executives.
The new campaign, “Cosmo Harms Minors,” seeks to have the magazine labeled as adult material that cannot be sold to anyone younger than age 18, and given a modesty wrapper like other pornographic magazines when displayed on newsstands.
A request for comment from the magazine, led by editor-in-chief Joanna Coles, was not immediately available Wednesday.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation listed Cosmopolitan on its 2015 “Dirty Dozen” list of pornography purveyors. It said Cosmo, “the staple of the supermarket checkout line,” is “a porn magazine” because it “glamorizes things like public, anal or violent sex in nearly all their issues.”
Cosmopolitan was created in 1886 as a family and home economics publication for women.
It was famously rebranded in the 1960s by Helen Gurley Brown, moving from family-friendly content to a “sex-centric brand of female empowerment,” an August 2012 New York Times Magazine article said.
The magazine has boosted its U.S. circulation to 3 million readers and has a total of 64 international editions. “Big Cosmo” — the U.S. “mother ship” of the company’s publications — is known for its ethos of “fun, fearless, female,” the Times magazine article said.
Fashion and beauty are core elements of Cosmo, but so are its articles about sex, which are invariably teased on its covers. Readers have been lured into its glossy pages with headlines like “52 Sex Tips, “When Your Vagina Acts Weird After Sex,” and “Eeek! You’ll Die When You Read What These ‘Normal’ Guys Wanted Once Their Pants Hit the Floor,” noted the Times article.
Kate White, the Cosmo editor-in-chief at the time of the Times’ article, said the magazine assumes women are having sex with boyfriends or husbands — not one-night stands or same-sex relationships — but doesn’t “pass judgment” on what women do when they engage in casual sex.
Cosmo doesn’t encourage crash dieting or plastic surgery, and instead seeks to help women to feel good about their bodies, the 2012 Times article said.
Ms. Coles, who took over a few years ago, has refocused the magazine to take on serious subjects and politics. “There’s still plenty of raunch, but Coles has attempted to steer it away from the guy-pleasing tips of Cosmos past,” Adweek said in an April 2013 article.
At Wednesday’s press conference at the National Press Club, Dr. Miriam Grossman said it was difficult to overstate the dangers to young women from the types of sexual activities “celebrated and promoted by Cosmo.”
Teen girls are more vulnerable physically to sexually transmitted diseases than women, even when condoms are used, Dr. Grossman said. Cosmo’s glamorization of anal sex and “anything goes” sexual activity doesn’t lead to happiness, empowerment or freedom, but walks young women “into a minefield,” she said.
The magazine’s other main message — that women’s purpose in life is to “be hot” — is “toxic” to women’s self-image and health, Dr. Grossman added.