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A comparison of sex in (wo)men’s magazines

After asking a few friends if they think men and women talk about sex differently, the answer being a few shrugged shoulders and a non-committal ‘yeah, probably’, I decided to look into the different attitudes towards writing about sex in men’s and women’s magazines.

The first thing I noticed was that sex did not have its own, dedicated section in any of the magazines I looked at. Cosmo’s ‘sextion’ was entitled Love: Love and Sex, while Glamour’s was tucked away somewhere in Features. Men’s mags, on the other hand, had sex based articles appearing in categories called: Girls (GQ and FHM), and Women (step forward Esquire and Maxim). So immediately I think I know what I’m in for; a traditionally mild mannered response to sex from the female based magazines, and a spot of mild misogyny from the male equivalent. I am, however, pleasantly surprised.

Taking Cosmo and GQ as our examples for now, I immediately noticed that the first articles to feature the word sex in their headlines appear 3 down, although as these are ordered chronologically I’m not sure how much bearing this has on the magazine’s attitudes to sex. Cosmo’s article was on the ‘Cosmasutra: Sex Positions’, which consisted of non-descript drawings of men and women in various positions with captions like ‘spin your way into sexual bliss’ (that one is the Pinwheel, incase you were wondering). GQ, on the other hand, went straight into an explicit rendering of the ways in which ‘Watching Porn Can Improve Your Sex Life’.

However a quick search of Cosmo’s other articles revealed some pretty graphic examples of sexual maneuvers, so I’d be reluctant to say that such precisely illustrative language is the preserve of men’s mags. I will note, however, that the women’s magazines did not shy away from labelling all genitalia in exact, biological detail, unlike a lot of what I found in Esquire and the like. For example, GQ’s porn article refused to name a woman’s genitalia as anything other than Her Sex, something I cannot help but cringe at whenever I hear it. I did find one use of the word Vagina in another article though, and a couple uses of Clitoris. But yes, Pussy and Her Sex cropped up several times.

Asking male friends what they thought about sex-writing in men’s magazines, most thought it was frank and accurate, while women’s magazine’s, they thought, wrote about sex in a far more jovial manner. My female friends had a similar opinion of women’s magazines, although they did say that both had a tendency to put a lot of pressure on readers by normalising a very hyper-realised version of sex.

Personally I think that candid conversation is the best thing for anyone’s sex life and both men’s and women’s magazines are very up front when discussing sex; be that positions, tips or horror stories. Obviously neither are perfect, and I could not help but pick up on some troublesome undertones in a few articles I read in men’s magazines, things like suggesting to men that women will love it if they are ‘roughly entered, no matter how much she is playing ‘scared’ or ‘reluctant’… because she is gagging for it’. But instances like these, while deeply worrying, weren’t consistent across all men’s magazines, and generally I was pleasantly surprised by the tone in which sex was discussed in both men’s and women’s, with as much emphasis placed on the pleasure of the partner as the one reading. We have come a long way from the days in which Coca-Cola was considered a valid form of contraception, and many women did not know they could reach an orgasm. I must confess, I am a little proud of us.

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