Representation of Sexuality in Print Media

Sexuality as a way in which people express themselves as sexual beings has become widely brandished in the modern world. Almost all spheres of media including television, advertisements, internet, magazines and newspapers have become filled with the themes of sexual desires and activities expression. Considering the fact that the print media and newspapers are more likely to decline in comparison to numerous other media, it is interesting to study a tendency of appearing more and more articles and images dealing with male and female sexuality that tend to attract more readers and keep the positions.

It is not a secret that the popularity of media including numerous magazines and newspapers depends on how interesting and timely the material it covers is for people. Therefore, in order to follow how the content of the printed media has changed through decades one should pay attention to the sexual revolution that has raise the interest to gender, sexuality norms and peculiarities. From the 1960s, the traditional social codes of sexual behaviour and sexual relations were increasingly challenged in Western societies. This was partly a result of second-wave feminist discourse and gay rights movements, partly a consequence of shifting social attitudes, and partly a consequence of availability of contraception. Over time this led to the normalisation of sex outside of the marital unit, homosexuality, and alternative sexual practices. At the same time, the social codes around representation of sex began to relax. From the early 1980s, HIV / AIDS began to be increasingly recognized as significant health issue. This led to the relaxation of codes around sexual content on television and also to the normalizing of homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, and alternative sexual practices. 

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Considering the modern newspapers, Richard Woo doubts about the morality of sexuality they present (Woo 2013). In order to discuss sexuality representations in newspapers, the author referred to the journalist’s confession about her personal sexual life presented in New York Times and the readers’ comments about it. Therefore, one can see that the contents of the newspapers become less and less limited about any topics on sexuality. According to all rules, such choice is closely connected with the culture and morality of people. However, far not everyone approve revealing the circumstances of one’s private life. Such example pushed Woo to reflection on how closely the concepts of irrational and moral are. In such a way, he proves how disputable the morality and, therefore, sexuality in the multi-cultural society is (Woo 2013). Although some people criticize the raised interest to sexuality that is presented almost everywhere and is hardly hidden from children’s eyes, people can find plenty of books about sex in public libraries and bookshops. The reason is that more and more readers welcome the discussions about sex and appreciate good grounding in sexuality education (Woo 2013).

Sexual morality and etiquette became a central issues for Garner, Sterk and Adams, who examined the popular female teenage magazines. Although the advices to women about sexuality and relations have changed during the last two decades, the female magazines still stay the main source of them. Moreover, the slight changes have not influenced the core of these advices that originated from sexual revolution and now deal with the women’s sociality, sexuality, heterosexual norms and practices (Garner et. al. 1998). On the basis of numerous media stories, magazine articles and advertisements presented in such print media, the authors made a conclusion that the sexual etiquette presented in magazines (make up, diets, exercises, dresses) encourages women to subordinate and become sex objects. In such a way, one can trace the moral changes that population has undergone. Regardless the feministic movements and struggle for gender equality, the sexuality reflection shows that men still are superior to women.

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Another work that reveals the concentration of the newspapers on the sexuality issues that were concealed several decades ago is the article by Elizabeth Cole and others. This article examines the marriage law and the human attitudes towards what should be considered as natural and not natural about relations. If there existed the taboos earlier, the authors emphasize that nowadays people discuss their positions about sexual minorities quite confidently (Cole et. al 2012).  The discussion of natural privilege or stigmatizing some models of relationships is met in media very often. If the articles about same-sex marriages used to be content-coded in the previous century, justification or condemnation of sexual minorities is widely-spread today. In their article, Cole et. al point out the dimensions of naturalness that defined the negative attitude towards sexual minorities: norms, change over time, welfare of children and  procreation (Cole et. al 2012).  Among such, change over time arguments were most frequent (39%) while procreation factors were met the least often (10%). It is interesting that the usage of arguments considering the moral status of marriage was associated with all of the four dimensions. In such a way, one can find another evidence that the change of the human morality leads to the change of interests. The results of the research show not only the leading role of naturalness concept to legitimize and maintain privilege of some relations, but the change of the media orientation at defining the sexual minorities’ status with the natural interest and human morality changes.

The issues of homo- and hetero-sexuality are in the center of human attention and media. One of the authors, who revealed this issue in his work, was Attwood. Male interests and representations, at the same time, are new and have not changed much during the last century (Attwood 2005). However, the article presents the explicit concentration on sexual desires and presentations. In his research, Attwood focused on the male journals and their central motives. As a result, the presentation of male heterosexuality became the main issue of such weekly British magazines as ‘Nuts’ and ‘Zoo Weekly’ (Attwood 2005). The main difference about depicting the female body is that the male magazines mostly depict it as sexual object while the female ones refer to some other topics that do not need the naked female bodies. At the same time, the representation of women sexuality in both cases is based on the examples of glamorous models. Regarding the difference in depicting the male body in the male and female magazines, the author marks out that the male one tend to put emphasis on “health, grooming and exercise regime” while the female ones refer to the aspect of “the cars, the clothes, the money ” (Attwood 2005). As a result, the male sexuality as represented in magazines for men is mostly based on the hedonistic views and puts emphasis on the beauty of the strong body.  Hence, the research has showed that the depiction of the male body, sexual pleasure and investigation of heterosexual activity have been the essential spheres of male interests for a long time. In such a way, one can see that the interests in the disputable questions of sexual minorities do not shade in any way the set of heterosexual interests presented in print media. Therefore, in the current socio-cultural context, the sex and gender representations obviously stay the focus of the male magazines and present in some way the norms for both male and female sexuality.

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The work by Farvid and Braun also refers to representations of male and female sexuality in the magazines for men and women. Their research based on ‘Cleo’ and ‘Cosmo’ has showed male sexuality is prioritized. A real heterosexual man was depicted as penetrative, strong and having a leading role in sexual relations. Men’s need for sex and satisfaction defined women’s needs to develop their sexual skills that would let them keep their men pleased (Farvid&Braun 2006). Accounts of pleasure and performance emphasize the male ego as the factor that can make men concerned about women’s satisfaction. Farvid & Braun make a conclusion that male heterosexuality is one of the main issues covered in the modern magazines for males and females. At the same time, its representation for different genders is not the same (Farvid&Braun 2006). It is important to pay attention to the fact that the female magazines widely theorize sex and relations in order to treat the themes more seriously while male magazines are more likely to focus on the description of masculinity and femininity. In such a way, one can see the difference in the media orientation that shows the male interest in physical sexuality and female’s one in relations and tendency to analyze. In such a way, the cultural messages on sex and sexuality differ within genders, and this predetermines media orientation at the audience interests and expectations.

The depiction of ‘great sex’ in the popular magazines was also studied by Menard & Kleinplatz. Regarding the fact that female magazines are mostly focused on the sexual advices. Such immodest themes as achieving ‘great’ sex are common for the majority magazine articles. In their study, Menard & Kleinplatz have found out that there are five mostly discussed factors in sexual advices: physical, relationship and psychological factors, varieties and pre-sex preparations (Menard&Kleiplatz 2007).  At the same time, the overwhelming focus is the mechanical or physical factors. Therefore, one can make a conclusion that sex and the factors that influence it are the most timely issues that interest the audience of both genders nowadays. The article concludes that all the advices are mostly based on the stereotypes existing in the society. However, the male and female popular magazines differ in representing the above mentioned issues. According to Menard & Kleinplatz, the main difference is that the representation of sexual desire from the male angle is more likely to present the female body as an object and the male one as the machine that needs sports, sex and be appeased. At the same time, the female popular magazines are more likely to center around some sexual dysfunctions or notions of the sexual normality. The marriages and other relations between sexual minorities are also met in the magazines for women and rarely in those for men (Menard&Kleiplatz 2007). Therefore, one can conclude that the popular magazines today have a high proportion of sexual content discussing various topics. This proves that the difference in the interests of different genders still intersects when it goes about sexuality.

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The feministic ideas also deserve special attention as they are much supported since the end of the 20th century. In such a way, there is no surprise that these ideas have become widely spread in magazines and newspapers. In her article, Gadsden focused more on the rules for the female sexual behavior that is the inherent part of the social life. According to her views, the potential governance of such norms can be followed in the modern female magazines (Gadsden 2000). Among the reasons for this, the author marks out the presence of a number of the male authors in the magazines for women. As a result, some of these male authors contributed to women’s understanding of men’s behavior building stronger relationships. However, the others attempted to govern the female sexuality (Gadsden 2000). In such a way, Gadsden proves that sexuality is regulated by the public discourses. As a result, media teaches people the definite stereotypes about couples, families, healthy sexual relations etc. For example, the normal couple is a heterosexual one, married, monogamous, white, middle or upper class (Gadsden 2000). Sadomasochistic, homosexual relations and many others are discussed in various articles of print media, but are presented as ‘bad’ (Gadsden 2000).  It is interesting that Gadsden’s research based on a ten-year analysis of some magazines has showed that the criteria to define bad and good women, attitude towards violence and even successfulness in some sciences that are widely discussed by men in the female magazines are based on the male sexual fantasies (Gadsden 2000). As a result, the media very often teaches people and especially women about the right and good models of behavior and of sexuality on the basis of the biased male assessments.

In addition to the above mentioned, there are numerous works that prove that the sexuality of young women is to a great extend educated through various popular magazines. Among such, one should pay attention to the work of Bielay and Herold. According to their research, the popular magazines of Canada are mostly read by young women, who choose the material on sexuality as the most interesting (Bielay&Herold 1995). They state that students of more liberal sexual attitudes are more likely to read the article on sexuality topics. Therefore, the findings not only suggest that the magazines are important to get sexual skills and techniques, but also that the sexuality-orientation of many print publications is the evidence of the high interest of population in sex and people’s abandon. The growth of this interest was marked out by Batchelor, Kitzinger and Burtney. Paying attention to the teenagers’ sexual behavior that develops very quickly, the authors marked out the importance of such topics as sex safety, responsibility, unplanned pregnancy etc. (Batchelor et. al 2004). Therefore, sexuality in the modern society becomes the sphere of interest for men and women earlier and earlier. As a result, the magazines as the means to educate teenagers should take into consideration the current problems and questions like readiness for sex, health concerns and certain limitations. Kim & Ward emphasized the importance of sexuality representations in the magazines for both younger and older women. Among the most timely topics, they marked out femininity ideologies, sexual attitudes, male stereotypes, sex risks (Kim&Ward 2003). Therefore, on can follow the journals follow the interest of the audience not only according to gender, but also according to the age.

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To sum it up, numerous works discussed above prove that the magazines and newspapers should keep up with time in order to stay popular. Considering the changes in human life, morality, norms, growth of interests toward sexuality, the print media is focused on various aspects depending on the gender and age of the audience. Among such, the central issues for the female magazines and newspapers stay the advices on sexuality and dealing with the sexual minorities; the male lifestyle magazines are more likely to reveal the heterosexuality and representing women bodies more like sexual objects; the teens magazines consider the rapid sexual development of the youth and provide much advises on sexual behavior and safety. Mainly these explicit topics that are timely for the nowadays culture make the magazines and newspapers still popular among the majority.

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