Cosmopolitan magazine is often spurned as “mindless,” but it has also grown into 64 editions worldwide, and a readership of 100 million teens and young women in more than 100 nations—including those “where any discussion of sex is taboo”:

Akisheva, the editor in Kazakhstan, told me that until recently, she received a handwritten note from Brown after the publication of each issue. ‘Our readers might not be very familiar with Helen Gurley Brown’s books and biography,’ she said, ‘but they surely are influenced by her original ideas. Because this is what Cosmo keeps telling them: You are strong, you can control your life, you can earn as much as men do and you can have sex before marriage and not be condemned by society.’

But what about the other stuff that Cosmo is telling them? One morning at Cosmic, a panel discussion included talk of some favorite Cosmo topics: sex toys (said to produce ‘the most incredible combinations of orgasms’), how to help men get erections more quickly and anal sex (‘backdoor booty’ as the magazine has called it). One panelist, a young Spanish woman, said that she teases her boyfriend with anal sex and then, jokingly, that she has to save something for marriage. The crowd roared. ‘Only at Cosmo,’ said the editor of Cosmo Australia, Bronwyn McCahon, between bites of miniature muffins and sliced melon, ‘will you be talking about anal sex at 10 a.m.’

“99 Ways to Be Naughty in Kazakhstan.” — Edith Zimmerman, New York Times Magazine

More Zimmerman