Cosmo Magazine Tells Women Unprotected Sex With An HIV-Positive Man Is Safe

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Women’s magazine Cosmopolitan has long been called out for its ridiculous articles about beauty and dieting, not to mention its limitless sex tips and relationship advice. The magazine, which was first published in 1886 as a family magazine, later became a women’s magazine in the 1960s (can you honestly imagine it as a family magazine now?!).

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What many people don’t know is that in 1988, the magazine gave perhaps its most dangerous and inaccurate advice in all of its history. In its January issue, the magazine ran an article called “Reassessing News About AIDS: A Doctor Tells You Why You May Not Be At Risk.” It was written by psychiatrist Robert E. Gould.

In the article, Gould claimed that women didn’t have to worry about catching the sexually transmitted disease if she had unprotected sex with an HIV-positive man. Yup, you read that right. And it gets worse. According to that issue of Cosmo:

“Most heterosexuals are not at risk.” [source]

The magazine also proclaimed that it was not possible to transmit HIV in the “missionary position.” These inaccurate claims were published in the magazine long after medical science publicly indicated otherwise. When Gould wrote this article, female heterosexual cases of AIDS had been increasing each year since 1982, most commonly through vaginal instead of anal sex. 

Such misinformation outraged AIDS and gay rights activists. Following the article, female activists in ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) requested a meeting with Gould and Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmopolitan at the time. Brown declined, but Gould agreed to meet. During the meeting, Gould claimed that the vaginal secretions that women produce during sexual arousal prevented the virus from penetrating the vaginal walls.

After this meeting, 300 activists showed up to a demonstration outside of Cosmopolitan offices and chanted “For every Cosmo lie, more women die!” [source]

At that time in history, Cosmopolitan had a readership of 11 million women ranging from ages 18 to 34. Sadly, it’s possible that the lives of some women may have been affected because of that misinformation.