Sex uncovered

I’m not sure if it’s singing or howling, but I am sure that the Lizard of Fun is wearing a pair of white satin bellbottoms and a big gold chain around its neck, and that ABBA’s Greatest Hits has been playing loudly for the past several hours.

"Mama mia, here we go again," shouts the Lizard happily, pressing "play" once more.

"Mama mia," I agree. "Why are you torturing me? You think someone’s gonna offer you tons of money to reincarnate ABBA?"

The Lizard grins as it boogies. "You’re just jealous because I’ve got a date for Valentine’s Day, and you’re going to be staying home, as usual, with ‘Ally McBeal’ and your fuzzy slippers."

I raise my eyebrows. "Or maybe someone paid your ex a billion dollars to get back together with you for one night?" The Lizard blushes a darker shade of green and quickly changes the subject. "Say, I bought you a present, something to keep your brain occupied while I’m off having fun."

It hands me the February issue of Cosmopolitan magazine. "Do you have any idea how hard it was to find that? I went to three Krogers before I finally got one. Guess they’re selling like hot pants."

No wonder. Kroger, the 2,200-store grocery chain (if you count all its subsidiaries), recently got in a huff over the issue’s supposedly steamy front-cover headlines, and insisted the magazine be covered all the way up to its title.

"Never mind that for years the magazine has been covering its own title with supermodels’ foreheads," says the Lizard, drooling a little.

I hold the magazine cautiously, as though the words "Sizzling Positions So Hot, You’ll Burn a Hole Through the Bed" were capable of igniting my hands as well as any home furnishings they might encounter.

"So, you figured to keep my mind occupied with an exposé about ‘Why Half of Hollywood has Given Up Carbs’? Or with wondering what Kroger thinks is the big deal?" I ask.

"Pretty much," says the Lizard. "I mean, hey, what’s the problem? Those headlines sell magazines, right? They reeled me in, anyway. I was actually looking for Herpetology Monthly."

"Uh-huh. Or maybe it was Jennifer Love Hewitt’s cleavage?"

The Lizard ignores me, doing a few disco moves as I flip through the magazine, which is heavily perfumed with scratch-and-sniff fragrance samples, and heavily lacquered with glossy cosmetics ads.

It’s not the first time I’ve read Cosmo, and it’s probably not the last. I’m struck, but not by the supposed steaminess and smuttiness, and not by the basic self-awareness stories ("Is PMS making you miserable?" asks one headline), and not even by the graphic descriptions (and diagrams) of those allegedly bed-burning sex positions.

What strikes me is the sameness of it all. The latest issue contains, as best I can remember, pretty much the same kinds of stories – hairstyles, interviews with celebrities du jour, dating advice, tips for being a hotter babe – that I surreptitiously read at my piano teacher’s house in fifth grade.

"Whoops, don’t let the Kroger folks know," says the Lizard. "Apparently, they’re concerned that kids might see these headlines, and ..."

"And what?" I say, puzzled. "Learn that women like sex? Learn a few new anatomical buzzwords?"

"That’s the part I can’t figure out," says the Lizard. "They claimed to be responding to complaints that customers were embarrassed about their kids seeing those headlines. Aren’t the kids the ones who are supposed to be embarrassed by shopping with their parents?"

You could call the stores’ efforts to cover up the magazines (Glamour has been mentioned, too) a kind of censorship, but it hardly seems worth the trouble. It’s not like they’re refusing the money they make by selling them, and it’s not like they’re stopping people from buying them, either. And you could take offense at the magazine’s focus on sex and beauty, but that, too, seems pointless.

"Hey, it’s fair game," says the Lizard. "Guys get sex mags, gals get sex mags. It’s a niche market, like knitting, or windsurfing, or people who worship Martha Stewart."

"Maybe they’re concerned about sheer stupidity," I say, flipping past the quiz: "Does Your Flirting Go Too Far?"

"Or maybe someone has figured out the really offensive part about these magazines," says the Lizard. "Like the headline about ‘The Incredible Kiss That Can Catch and Keep Any Guy.’ Now that’s scary."

"Why?" I ask. "Because it implies that women just need to catch a guy?"

The Lizard shudders, shaking its head. "No. Because it means that us guys are going to have to watch out. Next time we get smooched, we’re going to do nothing but worry."

"About being caught and kept?"

"No – about how to escape if she takes Cosmo seriously!"

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