Advertising and Sexual Content

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Running Head: SEXUAL CONTENT IN MAGAZINE ADVERTISEMENTS

Sexual Content in Advertisements in Women’s and Adolescent Girls’ Magazines 3/2230
California State University San Marcos

Abstract
A content analysis was conducted to examine sexual content in women’s and adolescent girls’ magazines. Sexuality was classified under three dimensions: facial expression, body language, and revealing clothing. Four popular female fashion magazines that publish adult and adolescent counterparts were selected. Coders analyzed 40 full paged advertisements for sexually explicit material and recorded ads as either “yes” or “no” as sexual. It was hypothesized that there would be more ads with sexual content in women’s magazines than in adolescent girls’ magazines. A Chi-Square test of independence yielded that there was not a significant difference between the two. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Sexual Content in Advertisements in Women’s and Adolescent Girls’ Magazines Advertising is not only the bearer of messages, it is the message. Many present day advertisements allure to the philosophy that an ideal woman is submissive, extremely beautiful, and subsists to fulfill men’s sexual desires (Baker, 2005). Studies have revealed that across a variety of magazines, advertisements use many stereotypes to portray women in an assortment of roles such as housewives, sex objects, and even as decorative elements (Baker, 2005; Stankiewicz & Rosselli, 2008; Zimmerman & Dahlberg, 2008). Sexual content in advertising has become more evident. Between 1964 and 1984 alone, the amount of ads sexual in nature tripled (Soley, 1986). At present, this trend continues to increase and intensify (e.g., Archer, Iritani, Kimes, & Barrios, 1983; Courtney & Whipple, 1983; Goffman, 1979, as cited in Baker, 2005). The fact that advertising has become so pervasive and ubiquitous suggests it has a substantial and objectionable impact on society.

The enormity of the impact of sexually explicit ads has remained indistinct. However, it has been strongly suggested that observation leads to modeling. Albert Bandura (1977, as cited in “Social Learning,” n.d.) stated that “from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors [italics added] are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action" (p22). On that account, it is not surprising that recent evidence shows young women to be increasingly less offended by the portrayal of women as sex objects (Zimmerman & Dahlberg, 2008) or that adult and adolescent women appear to be becoming more and more representative of the images portrayed in today’s media (Baker, 2005). The themes of sexually explicit ads, and the models depicted within them, set an example for women to emulate. Bandura’s research demonstrates that individuals are more likely to imitate or model after people who are in a position of authority, who are well liked, or of a higher status (Bandura, 1977, as cited in “Social Learning,” n.d.). Of equal importance, according to Bandura’s theory, individuals are likely to model after behaviors that result in outcomes they personally value (“Social Learning,” n.d.). These principles are important to note and directly relate to what is seen in the magazine advertisements of today, specifically those targeted toward women. It is estimated that the average American views approximately 37,000 advertisements from television alone, per year (Bretl & Cantor, 1988, as cited in Stankiewicz & Rosselli, 2008). Just as surely, people are exposed to a great number of advertisements every time they open a magazine. The women depicted there are examples of “ideal” women in “ideal” situations—a very powerful and highly observable influence indeed. Women and teen magazines are rife with sexual content. Numerous studies have recorded high amounts of sexualization across an assortment of magazine categories (e.g., Baker, 2005; Stankiewicz &...
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