Farrah Storr at the Cambridge UnionNordin Ćatić

When I heard that the UK editor of the magazine which once instructed women to tie their hair back with their pants after sex, to show “you’re fun, casual, and easy-going!” was speaking at the Union, talking her about Cosmopolitan’s historically diabolical sex tips was an absolute no-brainer.

I quickly came to realise this completely misunderstands the message of Cosmo.

Where I had seen the magazine as synonymous with bad sex tips, Farrah Storr, Cosmo’s editor since 2015, sees the magazine as synonymous with “empowerment in action.”

She tells me:“Cosmo doesn’t just talk the talk of ‘Let’s empower women.’ We make real changes to people’s lives,” she says. “In a world where everyone speaks about empowerment, they [just] speak about it. I would say Cosmo actually does something about it, to make sure that we really do empower everyone”. And by everyone, Storr means women and men. “I’ve been really clear about that. We’re a women’s magazine, but we should be speaking to everyone.”

“It was never about sex. Cosmo was always about career before anything else”

Storr cites the examples of Cosmopolitan Home, Made, a campaign aimed at helping young women who can’t afford to move to London to pursue careers in the creative industry, and the four paid Cosmo scholarships which are due to be launched. But the flagship issue which Cosmo is tackling, under Storr’s helmsmanship, is sex education in schools.

But, back to the sex tips. I begin to say that for me, and many women of my generation, Cosmo is synonymous with ‘sex.’ Storr responds: “It was never about sex. Cosmo was always about career before anything else. The oldest issues of Cosmo, from about the 60s and 70s, are about career.” She explains, “If you’re a woman, you can go into the world and earn your own money. Back in the 60s and 70s that was behaving like a man. So then the sex came along, which is [saying] at the same time ‘You can also have sex like a man’. And then [Cosmo] became famous for the sex, but it was never about sex. It was about career, and it was about money. And it was about empowerment.”

Cosmo no longer does the sex tips for which it is notorious, but Storr notes “we still do sex. However,“how I do sex in my Cosmo is that we look at how the world is having relationships and sex.”

“That can tell you a lot about the culture in which you are living. It’s a really interesting barometer of what is happening in the world.”

“How I do sex in my Cosmo is that we look at how the world is having relationships and sex.”Ming Kit Wong

While she is not pleased that the first insight into sex most people have comes from porn, Storr acknowledges that the role that Cosmo’s sex tips would once have played has been taken over by porn. Before porn was so readily available, Cosmo “was genuinely empowering, because it was like, “Well, how do I give a blow job?” You could either ask your friends, or you could go to Cosmo if you couldn’t have those conversations. But I just don’t think there is a place for that anymore. And it means that everyone was having sex the same way.”

This does not mean that Storr sees no link between sexuality, sex education, and Cosmo. I ask her if she still feels a responsibility regarding how girls might be influenced by Cosmo to approach their own sexuality, and she immediately replies “Totally.” To this end, Cosmo has launched a Snapchat Discover channel, aimed at 14-18 year olds, which runs sex education content. Cosmo’s website also has some educational content, and so does the print magazine. “We absolutely still do our service to sex, and the most exciting thing for us is that we do sex education in schools. I think if somebody said that Cosmo would be doing that, I’d have said it can’t be done. But we’ve just done a massive pilot on it.”

“You’ve got to talk to men the same way about sex as you do to women, because when those two people come together, you want them to have the same expectations of what should take place”

This pilot scheme, run in partnership with Men’s Health, is for both boys and girls, “because in this world, and this climate, you’ve got to talk to men the same way about sex as you do to women, because when those two people come together, you want them to have the same expectations of what should take place.” Storr tells me that this dual approach uncovered an absolutely shocking statistic: “82% of the boys said they didn’t know what consent meant until they’d done the programme.”

I ask Storr if she and her husband (journalist Will Storr, author of 2017’s Selfie, a thoughtful study of how 'self-centred' society has supposedly become) influence each other’s work as both focus so intensely on millennials. She describes his work as an “invaluable” contribution to her own insights, explaining: “we are talking constantly about what it means to be a millennial today. Through the work that Will was doing what I was really lucky to have was a real understanding of how millennials are built. They grew up in the Reagan and Thatcher era [of] eighties individualism, and that defines everything.”


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They are clearly hugely supportive of each other, with Will watching Storr’s talk at the Union. During our interview, she calls to him to ask his opinions. Here is a woman who manages to be that which many Cosmo readers will have looked to emulate: successful in her own right, and a cheerleader to those around her, without suffering any diminution to her own person in the process.

Storr reminds me of my auntie, and I realise that she reflects the women to whom she and Cosmo speak: she truly walks the walk as well as talking the talk. We can see ourselves in Cosmo’s pages, and in its editor. That’s what makes her so perfect to lead the charge: she is in the trenches with the women that she is making the changes for. She knows what she’s talking about, and to whom. What Storr is doing is phenomenal, and one gets the sense when speaking to her that she is only just getting started.

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