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‘Most of Us Guys are Raring to Go Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere’: Male and Female Sexuality in Cleo and Cosmo

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Abstract

Women’s magazines are a popular site for analysis of socio-cultural messages about gender, sex, and sexuality. We analyzed six consecutive issues of Cosmopolitan and Cleo to identify the ways in which they construct and represent male and female sexuality. Overall, male sexuality was prioritised, ‘real’ heterosex was depicted as penetrative, and orgasm was given precedence. Two main accounts of male and female sexuality were identified. Men’s need for (great) sex positioned men as easily aroused and sexually satisfied, but women as needing to develop ‘great’ sexual skills to keep their men from ‘straying.’ Accounts of pleasure, performance, and the male ego represented men as concerned about women’s pleasure, about their own sexual performance and as sensitive about suggested sexual ‘inadequacies.’ We discuss the implications of these constructions for women’s gendered (sexual) subjectivity, sexual practices, and identities.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Most of Us Guys are Raring to Go Anytime, Anyplace,
Anywhere: Male and Female Sexuality
in Cleo and Cosmo
Panteá Farvid &Virginia Braun
Published online: 17 November 2006
#Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2006
Abstract Wom en s magazines are a popular site for
analysis of socio-cultural messages about gender, sex, and
sexuality. We analyzed six consecutive issues of Cosmo-
politan and Cleo to identify the ways in which they
construct and represent male and female sexuality. Overall,
male sexuality was prioritised, realheterosex was
depicted as penetrative, and orgasm was given precedence.
Two main accounts of male and female sexuality were
identified. Mens need for (great) sex positioned men as
easily aroused and sexually satisfied, but women as needing
to develop greatsexual skills to keep their men from
straying.Accounts of pleasure, performance, and the
male ego represented men as concerned about womens
pleasure, about their own sexual performance and as
sensitive about suggested sexual inadequacies.We discuss
the implications of these constructions for womens gen-
dered (sexual) subjectivity, sexual practices, and identities.
Keywords Womens magazines .Heterosexuality .
Male/female sexuality .Sex .Gender
Womens magazines provide an abundance of readily
available advice regarding sex and sexual practice, and, as
such, they are a popular site for feminist analyses of socio-
cultural messages about sex and sexuality, as well as about
femininity, and, more recently, about masculinity. In the
present study, we continued and expanded the feminist
academic interest in cultural messages about sex and
sexuality. We focused on two popular womens lifestyle
magazines, Cleo and Cosmopolitan (Cosmo), and on the
constructions of male and female sexuality contained within
them. A critical focus on masculinities (and indeed male
sexualities) fits within recent theorising of masculinity as
constructed, and thus as deconstructable (e.g., Potts, 2002),
and with feminist interest in this area (e.g., Gardiner, 2002;
Ramazanoglu, 1992; Robinson, 2003). Here we discuss
how these magazines construct female sexuality through
their depiction of male and female sexuality, as male and
female sexuality were intricately linked in most accounts.
Specifically, we consider the implications of these repre-
sentations of (hetero)sexuality for women, as women are
the target audience of such magazines.
Reading Womens Magazines
Over the last three decades, a considerable amount of feminist
research has been carried out on womens magazines (e.g.,
Ballaster, Beetham, Frazer, & Hebron, 1991; Dermarest &
Garner, 1992; Gadsden, 2000; Hermes, 1995; Krassas,
Blauwkamp, & Wesselink, 2001; Machin & Thornborrow,
2003; McCracken, 1993; McMahon, 1990; Peirce, 1997;
Triece, 1999; Winship, 1987). The majority of this work has
analysed the content of womens magazines and their
representations of womens identity (e.g., Dermarest &
Garner, 1992; Johnston & Swanson, 2003). For example,
researchers have examined how women are represented with
regard to sexual health and sexuality (e.g., Durham, 1996),
weight and body image (e.g., Cusumano & Thompson,
1997), how these representations are situated within partic-
ular socio-cultural contexts, and how they may reinforce
particular gender(ed) ideologies (e.g., Ballaster et al., 1991;
Damon-Moore, 1994; Scanlon, 1995; Triece, 1999).
Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310
DOI 10.1007/s11199-006-9084-1
P. Farvid (*):V. Braun
Department of Psychology,
The University of Auckland,
Private Bag 92019,
Auckland, New Zealand
e-mail: p.farvid@auckland.ac.nz
Most previous researchers have been critical of womens
magazines, maintaining that they portray a simplified
version of the world to their readersa world where
everything is reduced to gender oppositions (Eggins &
Iedema, 1997); where there are no social class, racial, or
political differences (Machin & Thornborrow, 2003); and
where Western ideals of beauty (i.e., young, White, thin)
are prioritised, as is heterosexuality (Jackson, 1996;
McLoughlin, 2000). Others maintain that we need look no
further than the huge business of dieting, the cosmetic and
fashion industry, and the growing popularity of cosmetic
surgery to propose that the idealised (and unrealistic)
representations of beauty in womens magazines may be
damaging to womens development, health and self-esteem
(Bordo, 1993; Wolf, 1991).
In addition, many researchers have argued that women
are continuously portrayed as sex objects within womens
magazines (Ferguson, Kreshel, & Tinkham, 1990). How-
ever, since the so-called sexual revolution, womens
magazines have openly described and celebrated an active
female sexuality; Cosmo, in particular, has pushed the
notion of egalitarianand emancipatedsex (Ussher,
1997) and constructed the fun, fearless female(Machin
& Thornborrow, 2003, p. 462) as the embodiment of a
desirable feminine sexuality. Despite some changes in the
representation of sexuality, many feminists have continued
to critique the ongoing relentless focus on heterosexual
relationships and the limited perspective in the coverage of
sex and sexual practices in womens magazines (Gauntlett,
2002). The sexual acts that are represented are found to be
only mildly transgressive, and still based on traditional
gender roles (Caldas-Coulthard, 1996), although this has
recently been maskedby the represention of women as
daring and dangerous through sex(Machin & Thornborrow,
2003 p. 455). In addition, womens magazines usually
emphasise sexual difference, advocate understanding and
compromise from both parties as a resolution to sexual
conflict(Ballaster et al., 1991, p. 143), and often reiterate
dominant gender ideologies and discourses (McMahon,
1990).
An ongoing debate exists regarding feminist moral
positioning in relation to magazine consumption (Currie,
1999): Should womens magazines be viewed as the
oppressive purveyor of pernicious ideology to be con-
demnedor as a legitimate avenue for women-centred
pleasureto be embraced (Ballaster et al., 1991,p.4;
Currie, 1999). Traditionally, feminist critiques of main-
stream media (including magazines) portray the media as
ideologically manipulative(Gough-Yates, 2003,p.7)in
the sense that they project messages about the nature of
femininity that serve to legitimate and naturalise patriarchal
domination. Womens magazines are seen to be very
limited in scope: primarily about beauty, fashion, and
how to get a man.Not only have previous researchers
frequently found and reported an obsession with men in
womens magazines (e.g., McMahon, 1990; Wray & Steele,
2002), but the magazines are regularly seen as reinforcing
the idea that a man is the route to happiness and that, if
women are good enough,the right man will come along
and sweep them off their feetideally into wedded bliss
(Gauntlett, 2002, p. 190).
1
However, as problematic as they appear to be through
such critical analysis, womens magazines sell widely all
over the world and are easily accessible to many women.
They appeal to women both visually and emotionally by
offering colourful advertising and fashion spreads, as well
as information and support about womens everyday lives
(Ferguson, 1983; Winship, 1987; Wolf, 1991). McMahon
(1990) has suggested that one of the reasons readers get
hookedon lifestyle magazines such as Cosmo is that they
often provide (temporary) solutions to social and personal
conflicts. Although many feminists continue to argue that
womens magazines offer up oppressive imagery, others
have challenged oppression as a necessary outcome of such
representation. Winship (1987) was one of the first to
dismiss the idea that womens magazines are only about
patriarchal oppression. Although she critically analyzed the
content of womens magazines (e.g., Wom ensOwn,
Cosmopolitan) and their contradictions and identified their
limitations (of reinforcing dominant ideologies), Winship
also highlighted the magazinesappeal to women and their
potential for change.
So although womens magazines may be seen as a bit of
funor even as helpful to some women, feminists maintain
that these magazines represent only a partial view of the
world. It is argued that the reality represented is largely
based on the interests of advertisers and masculine desires
that sexualise womens submissiveness and objectification
1
The focus of this article is womens magazines, but it is important to
note that analyses of a particular genre of adolescent girlsmagazines
(such as Teen,Seventeen), which have also been studied for over three
decades (e.g., Carpenter, 1998; Duke & Kreshel, 1998; Frazer, 1987;
Kehily, 1999; McRobbie, 1978; Schlenker, Caron, & Halteman, 1998;
Willemsen, 1998), have yielded similar findings, such as a relentless
focus on boys, fashion, and beauty (Duke & Kreshel, 1998;
Willemsen, 1998). One difference is that these magazines tend to
promote an emphasised femininity(Kaplan & Cole, 2003) and to
focus on attracting boysattention (often through ones looks) and
how to get a boyfriend (Wray & Steele, 2002). Womens magazines,
in contrast, tend to be more explicitly about sex (McMahon, 1990),
albeit often framed within the context of a (monogamous) relationship.
It would seem that adolescentsmagazines teach girls how to become
heterosexually feminine,and womens magazines advise on how
femininity should be moulded, sexualised, and practiced as one gets
older. So womens and adolescent girlsmagazines are somewhat
distinct in prioritising different aspects of heterosexuality, which are
related to the target age groups of the magazinesconsumers but
operate within a similar ideological framework.
296 Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310
(Bordo, 1993; Durham, 1996; McCracken, 1993; Winship,
1987). Contained within womens magazines are a myriad
of articles and columns, alongside the advertising, that
purport to offer women advice on how to behave, or what
products to buy, in order to attract and maintain relation-
ships with men (Durham, 1996; Ferguson, 1983;
McCracken, 1993; Winship, 1987). Although we do not
focus on it further here, the relationship between advertis-
ing and editorial and other content of these magazines is
potentially complex, contradictory, and worth consideration
(e.g., see Baker, 2005; Ballaster et al., 1991; Courtney &
Whipple, 1983; Frith, Shaw, & Chen, 2005; Lindner, 2004).
The research we have discussed thus far has primarily used
content- or representation-focused approaches (e.g., Ballaster
et al., 1991; Krassas et al., 2001; McMahon, 1990; Peirce,
1997). More recently, audience ethnography approaches (e.
g., Boynton, 1999;Hermes,1995; McCleneghan, 2003;
Winship, 1987), which explore the ways readers make sense
of magazines, have been used in an effort to present a more
comprehensive analysis of womens magazines. Audience
ethnography examines the meanings that readers take from
womens magazines (e.g., Boynton, 1999;Hermes,1995;
Kalof, 1999). Such studies demonstrate that although
particular gendered ideologies may be prioritised within
womens magazines, readers interpret these in complex ways
(e.g., women discussing sexually explicit material in top
shelfmagazines aimed at heterosexual women have been
reported to do so in mixed and varied ways; see Boynton,
1999). The portrayed ideas are not simply automatically
absorbed by the readersreaders also offer critiques of
particular representations (e.g., the representations of
beauty in popular magazines; see Kalof, 1999).
Given the variety in which readers may engage with the
portrayals in womens magazines, questions have been
raised regarding the validity of analyses that focus on the
text in the absence of readersinterpretations. For instance,
Hermes (1995) suggested that the texts alone are not that
important, and that womens magazines are not meaningful
when analysed outside of the context of the readersdaily
lives. Others, however, have argued that, although it is
clearly problematic to suggest that magazine representa-
tions are directly embraced by readers, our social realities
and social identities are constructed through language
(McLoughlin, 2000, p. 95, emphasis added). Magazines
necessarily provide a space for, and contribute to, (societal
and individual) discourses of femininity, masculinity, and
sexuality (McRobbie, 1996), and the critical analysis of
magazine texts is one important mode of inquiry into their
social construction. We must also recognise that (different)
masculinities, femininities, and sexualities are not con-
structed as equal, and are not equally available to all
people, as some sexualities are dominant and some
subordinate in society. Magazines can contribute to the
availability and relative positionings of their different
forms.
Theorising Sex and Sexuality
The theoretical position taken in the present study is social
constructionism (e.g., Tiefer, 1995); human sexualityis
seen as a social and historical construct, and a product of
many influences and social interventions,which does not
exist outside of our interpretations and understanding of
sexual practices (Weeks, 1986, p. 31). This means that
what counts as sex; where, when, and with whom one has
sex; as well as the meanings attributed to, and the
experiences of, sex(Braun, Gavey, & McPhillips, 2003,
p. 237) are all socially and culturally produced. This
approach problematises the notion that sex is a natural
act(Tiefer, 1995). Instead, sexuality is seen to be shaped
by language, discourse(s), and other representational prac-
tices, and these are seen to enable, and limit the
possibilities of, material discursive practices(Braun et al.,
2003, p. 238). Discourses about sex are the means by which
people come to understand sexuality and to produce/
experience their sexual behaviour (Duncombe & Marsden,
1996). Dominant (and subordinated) discourses of sex and
sexuality are also implicated in the construction of
individual subjectivities and identities.
Discourses and representations of sex and sexuality
abound, and the media are a key site for the (re)production
and contestation of discourses about sex and sexuality
(Holmberg, 1998). The West can currently be seen as a
predominantly liberalpro-(hetero)sex environment for
both women and men. Here the societal message is that
you have to be sexual, you have to want to be sexual, you
have to be good at being sexual, and you have to be
normally sexual(Tiefer, 1995, p. 129, emphasis added).
However, historically, prevailing discourses about sexuality
have made clear (and largely dichotomous) distinctions
about what constitutes maleand femalesexuality.
Dominant discourses have constructed male sexuality as
driven by a strong biological needfor (coital) sex for its
own sake (Weeks, 1986)what Hollway (1989) identified
as a male sexual drivediscourse. Male sexuality has been
framed in opposition to female sexuality, with a strong
emphasis on the mans sexual ability, performance, and
competence (Kilmartin, 1999). Primacy has been given to
the penis, erection, and orgasm (Tiefer, 1995). It has been
argued that this masculinemodel of sexuality is the most
prevalent understanding of genericsexuality, and it is still
how sexuality is broadly understood (Jackson, 1984;
Kilmartin, 1999). The notion of male sexuality as (inher-
ently) performance-oriented has been challenged by many
(e.g., Kilmartin, 1999; Seidler, 1989; Tiefer, 1995). As sex
Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310 297
is linked to masculine accomplishment, self-esteem, and
identity, possibilities of sexual inadequacy become linked
to masculine inadequacy.
Women have not been generally understood to be
as naturallysexual as men (Roberts, Kippax, Waldby,
& Crawford, 1995). Traditionally, female sexualityhas
been defined as passive, responsive to mens sexual needs,
and closely associated with reproduction (Gavey &
McPhillips,1999; Weeks, 1986). Jackson (1984) contended
that female sexuality has been characterised as both
different and the same as male sexuality; on the one hand,
less easily aroused, more emotional, and more diffuse,
while, on the other hand, stemming from the same
biological drive(p. 49). Jackson claimed that accounts of
difference work to position female sexuality as comple-
menting male sexuality and that accounts of similarity
legitimate prevailing forms of male sexuality. Since sexual
liberation,the constructions of (female) (hetero)sexuality
have been somewhat altered, as intimacy, agency, and
mutual pleasure for both partners in sexual encounters has
been emphasised (Jackson, 1984). What Hollway (1989)
identified as a permissive discoursearound heterosex has
become prevalent, as have notions of reciprocity within
heterosex (Braun et al., 2003; Gilfoyle, Wilson, & Brown,
1992). Despite such shifts, notions of sexual difference
between women and men remain.
Previous research on heterosexual relationships has
indicated that beliefs and understandings about male and
female sexuality impact womens sexuality (Meadows,
1997). These understandings are seen to result from a
range of messages that emanate from the cultural and
institutional contexts in which a person is located
(Holland, Ramazanoglu, Sharpe, & Thompson, 1992,p.
3,) and from expectations of, and experiences of, pressures
from men (Meadows, 1997). Thus it appears that the
cultural values and social practices of heterosexuality today
still divert much of womens agency, energy and identity
toward meeting mensneeds,”’ rather than their own
(Holland, Ramazanoglu, & Thompson, 1996,p.146;
Holland, Ramazanoglu, Sharpe, & Thompson, 1998, see
also, Fine 1988; Lees, 1993; Thompson, 1990).
As noted above, womens magazines are a major source
of (sexual) information for adolescent girls and (young)
women. However, although there has been extensive
feminist research on the representations of femininity and
female sexuality within womens magazines, analysis of
information about men in womens magazines has been
scarce. We moved beyond a focus on what these magazines
tell female readers about their own, and other womens,
sexuality to what the magazines impart regarding male
sexuality. This focus on men not only fits within recent
academic interest in men, masculinities, and male sexual-
ities in general (e.g., Connell, 1995; Edley & Wetherell,
1995,1997; Kimmel & Messner, 2001), but also with
analysis about men and masculinity in media representa-
tions (e.g., Krassas, Blauwkamp, & Wesselink, 2003;
Vigorito & Curry, 1998).
In the present study, we focused on the discursive
constructions of male sexuality evident in Cleo and Cosmo.
The focus on men is particularly relevant because, in a
heteronormative world, male and female sexualities are
constructed simultaneously. Therefore, although previous
examinations of constructions of femininity/female sexuality
in magazines have been useful, they are only partially
complete, as female (hetero)sexuality is also constructed
through the magazinesaccounts of male (hetero)sexuality.
Our analysis of male heterosexuality necessarily involves an
analysis of female heterosexuality as well. As women are the
intended consumers of these accounts of male (and female)
sexuality, we particularly considered the potential implica-
tions of such representations in terms of the production of
(possible, sexual) identities, subjectivities, and practice for
women, but also explored the potential impact these
representations may have in terms of womens expectations
of male sexuality. Although we identified common and
recurrent constructions of male, and female, sexuality within
the magazines, and their likely implications, it is important to
recognise that these accounts are potentially engaged in a
variety of ways by different readers.
Materials and Methods
The Sample
The data came from six sequential issues of Cleo and Cosmo
(JanuaryJune 2002). These two magazines are very similar
in content and scope, and they target largely the same
demographic (1834 year old women, although they are read
by girls as young as 14). Cosmo is the most widely read
womens lifestyle magazine globally (McCleneghan, 2003),
and Cleo is an Australasian magazine very similar to Cosmo.
New Zealand readers are offered the New Zealand edition of
Cleo and the Australian edition of Cosmo. In New Zealand,
each magazine has virtually identical national readership
figures, but Cleo is marginally higher (ACNeilsen, 2005).
Six sequential issues of each magazine were chosen, as we
wished to focus on the constructions prevalent in a particular
cultural moment, as opposed to identifying changes and
trends that may have occurred over a longer period of time.
Procedure
Data were analysed using a thematic approach (e.g., Braun &
Clarke, 2006; Singer & Hunter, 1999). The magazines were
thoroughly read by the first author, and any part (e.g., article,
298 Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310
column, except advertisements) that contained content that
made any reference to male sexuality was selected as data.
Selection of data and coding was conducted by the first
author, in consultation with the second author. Selection
resulted in a large data set: 200 pages from Cosmo and 199
pages from Cleo. Data were coded into themes through a
process of repeated reading, which resulted in the initial
identification of a number of patterned representations of
male sexuality. Initial themes were reworked and refined, in
consultation with the second author, and in relation to the
whole data set as the analysis progressed, and further sub-
themes were coded and identified.
The thematic analysis was informed by feminist post-
structuralist theories of language (e.g., Gavey, 1997;
Weedon, 1997). Language is viewed not as merely
reflectingsocial practices, but rather as constitutive and
a social relation in itself (Weedon, 1997). In this frame-
work, language can be understood in terms of a loop:
Language is productive and produces meanings, but it also
gets its meanings from the social practices that it names.
Thus texts are constitutive of the society in which they are
produced, and discourses produce possibilities for identity
constructions that can manifest in material practices:
Language and discourse constitute meaning, and hence,
particular discursive resources enable and constrain
peoples choices for how to be and act in the social world
(Braun et al., 2003, p. 241). Feminist poststructuralist
analysis of written text typically includes an analysis of the
socially constructed nature of human behaviour, decon-
struction of the assumptions within language and the
processes of producing subjectivities(Gavey, 1997, p.62).
Data were interrogated for the assumptions they rely on
and reproduce and the possibilities they offer for subjectiv-
ity and practice for women (and men). We present the
results of our analysis, grounded in a close-reading of the
data, which identifies possible limitations for womens
sexual subjectivity. However, in line with our theoretical
position, it is important to note that, as magazines are
situated within a broader social, cultural, political, and
historical context, there is room for diverse interpretation
(Gough-Yates, 2003), and we do not claim ours as a final or
only possible reading of the data. We include illustrative
extracts discussed in relation to each theme. Where data are
presented, the extracts will include information about:
source (Cleo or Cosmo), month of publication, title of
article, and sex of author: F(female) or M(male). When
square brackets appear within the extracts (i.e., [...]), this
indicates omission of unrelated text.
Results and Discussion
The magazinesrepresentations of sex and sexuality
continued to be relentlessly heterosexual(Jackson, 1996;
McLoughlin, 2000); however, the data were characterised
by multiple, competing, and contradictory accounts of male
and female sexuality. The depiction of female (hetero)
sexuality was ostensibly an empoweredone, as there were
representations of young women as sexually active and
independent with the right to desire sex and experience
sexual pleasure. In this sense, the magazines can be seen as
sexually liberal and as offering an image of sexual agency
for women. However, concurrent with this, women were
overwhelmingly represented as wanting/needing men in
their lives and ultimately seeking (monogamous) long-term
relationships with men; this was often situated as the
desired outcome from a new date/sexual encounter:
Does he have staying power? Single-girl tips to suss
him out on the first date.Hes gorgeous-looking,
funny and he seems so, so sweet. But how good are his
long-term relationship prospects? (Cosmo, February,
Guy spy,F).
Want to make your boy-meets-girl story an unforget-
table one? Then its time to try a girl-meets-boy
approach. Take the risk and you just might be
rewarded with a great relationship (Cleo, June, How
to make the first move,M).
Women were constantly depicted as ultimately looking
for their Mr Right(who was presumed to exist for all
women):
We ended up going back to my flat and spent the most
incredible night together. I really thought he was going
to be it”—The One (Cosmo, January, You love him,
he loves speed: Are drugs damaging your life
together?,F).
Kelly must realise that she wont meet Mr Right out
on the town (Cosmo, May, Are you in a dating
drought?,F).
These extracts represent women as in pursuit of a loving,
long-term, monogamous heterosexual relationship with
The One,an outcome implicitly framed as womens
ultimate desire. Within such accounts, men were implicitly
located as the underlying source of womens fulfilment,
security, and happiness. The magazines rarely considered a
womans life without a man. According to these magazines,
aMr. Rightexists for each woman to find, and happiness
ultimately comes to those who find and keephim. So,
within Cosmo and Cleo, women were represented as
inherently bound to a heterosexual imperative, where desire
and success in the heterosexual world are closely associated
with finding and keeping Mr Right.Women were thus
situated as needing men. Men were rarely represented as
needingwomen in the same manner, and their presumed
full autonomy and independence was something women
Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310 299
implicitly still do not possess, nor should they desire it.
This reliance on, and reiteration of, traditional notions of
gender difference (i.e., independent man, dependant wom-
an) was prevalent throughout the magazines in various
ways.
The depiction of female sexuality is only part of the
story a (female) reader may take from these magazines, as,
given their heterosexual orientation, female sexuality
always exits in relation to its target’—male sexuality.
Overall, the magazines could be described as being
obsessedwith male sexuality; male sexuality was the
topic of many articles and other items, but was also a
central focus in accounts of female sexuality, which was
frequently oriented toward producing mens sexual plea-
sure. So although these magazines are ostensibly women-
centred,male sexuality was prioritised in a range of ways.
Men occupied contradictory positions in Cosmo and
Cleo: They were the target of womens desires, and thus the
magazines were largely pro men.However, simultaneous-
ly, men were depicted in more negative ways, as the source
of much stress, anxiety, and even trauma for women.
Another key positioning of men was as a voice of
(experiential) authority (see Kitzinger, 1994) in the mag-
azines. Here (ostensibly) realmens contributions and
views implicitly worked to offer access to the truth(s)of
mens experience and (sexual) preferences to a naïve
female readership (see Machin & Thornborrow, 2003).
Mens voices provided accounts of how women ideally
should behave, dress, and engage in sexual practices. In line
with previous research (Gadsden, 2000), male authors
generally helped women understand their male partners
and provided ways in which women could please their
heterosexual mates(p. 51, emphasis added).
For instance, women were instructed regularly on how to
produce a sexual experience that was enjoyable for men;
mens voices provided adviceon how women should
please them sexually:
Another technique that many males adore but are
reluctant to express is having their partner maintain
eye contact during oral sex (Cleo, May, 7 ways to get
him up!M).
Please look at me while youre giving me a head job.
Theres nothing like having a beautiful woman going
down on you and holding your gaze while she does it
(Cleo, March, 21 ways to make a naked man shiver!
M).
Such advice (by men) situates the female readership as
simultaneously potentially unknowing and as needing to
know about (the mysteries of) male sexuality. This advice
works to shape ideas about what realmens sexual
preferences are and in what sexual activities (and how)
women should be engaged. In those extracts that portray
men as adoringeye contact during fellatio, the magazines
not only encourage women to engage in this sexual activity
(if they want to please their male partner), but to engage in
it in a particular way. Wood (1994) has suggested that one
of the dominant representations of women in the mass
media is that they exist to satisfy mens sexual fantasies,
and Woods claim was supported by our data. In Cleo and
Cosmo, women were encouraged to be as sexualas
possible, but primarily in ways that made them available to
satisfy mens purported (and reported) sexual fantasies and
desires (which, from a constructionist perspective, are
producedand not natural). Although providing men
with sexual pleasure may bring pleasure and power to
women, women are also [positioned as] naïve and
vulnerable...relying on the reaction of men for their self-
image and power(Machin & Thornborrow, 2003, p. 464).
Therefore, the constant reiteration of how to give men
pleasurepotentially promotes an insecure sexuality for
women.
The magazines also commonly portrayed womens
atypicalsexual behaviour as particularly desired by men:
Whats the most important moment during sex?
When she starts talking dirty or takes the initiative
and gets into a position thats neither missionary nor
her on top. It means she has an adventurous streak.”—
Malcom, 31 (Cleo, May, 7 ways to get him up!,M).
Such sexual activities were implicitly positioned as
unusual: not what would generally be expected; found
only in adventurouswomen. Thus they work simulta-
neously to position women in general as not sexually
adventurous, and men as adventurous and desiring (un-
common) sexually adventurous women. Women were
persistently encouraged to cater to mens sexual needs and
desires in a relationship or sexual encounter and to become/
embody his fantasy. Thus, in line with previous research on
heterosexual relationships (e.g., Crawford, Kippax, &
Waldby, 1994), the prevailing version of heterosexual
relationships/sex represented in the magazines was male-
orientated.
Within Cosmo and Cleo, women were (still) represented
as judged and selected as sexual partners based on their
appearance. Male voices also provided views on this:
On a first date: A woman should wear something that
makes me want to sleep with her, but not something
that makes me think 1000 men probably have. Itsa
fine line.Steve, 27 (Cosmo, May, What makes a great
date?M).
Here female sexuality, and femininity, was linked to
physical appearance, as it often has been (Travis, Meginnis,
& Bardari, 2000). Comments such as the one above subtly
300 Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310
set up criteria for attractiveand appropriatefemininity
based on certain levels of apparent sexuality. It has been
argued that the conflation of physical appearance and
sexuality is detrimental to women on individual, interper-
sonal, and systemic levels and that it ultimately sustains
gender-based oppression(Travis et al., 2000, p. 237). This
extract nicely demonstrates the continued existence of a
tightrope of femininityfor women, which produces/
polices womens behaviour (see Lees, 1993,1998). The
following observation regarding womens magazines di-
rectly applies to our analysis of Cosmo and Cleo:
If men can define womens gender roles and sexuality
in a womans magazine, women have not been
successful in claiming a social space free from male
dominance. In these magazines, males have the right
and the privilege to define notions of femininity and
confine female sexuality to the heterosexual couple.
Male authors were allowed to exist as authority
figures, reinforcing stereotypical gender ideologies.
(Gadsden, 2000, p. 56)
Overall, there was a lack of diversity in the representa-
tions of sexual activities; realheterosex was still con-
structed primarily as penetrative, sexual pleasureachieved
only through orgasm, and mutual orgasmthe the holy
grail of intercourse(Cosmo, May, Help him to read your
mind [and body] in bed,F). Women were not only
encouraged to embrace sexuality as identified above, but
female sexuality itself was represented as centred or based
on these notions. Jackson and Scott (2001) refered to this as
alinear rationalised process(p. 104) within heterosexual
encounters; A series of stages to be gone through before
the final output: foreplay leading to coitus culminating in
orgasm(Jackson & Scott, 1997, p. 560). Womens sexual
pleasure (orgasm) was situated as necessary based on
reciprocity and the permissive discourse (Braun et al.,
2003), but as difficult (if not impossible) to achieve,
particularly via coitus. The magazines did not depict oral
sexor masturbationfor women as ways of achieving this
orgasmic pleasure as legitimate as coitus. However, women
have reported masturbation or oral sex as more or at least
as sexually pleasurable, in terms of orgasm, as intercourse
(Gavey, McPhillips, & Braun, 1999, p.63, emphasis in
original). The magazines prioritised (traditional) mascu-
linesexuality and male sexual desires, and perpetuated
gendered constructions of heterosexuality and heterosex.
Mens Needs for (Great) Sex
When you feel like having sex, just tell men. Most of
us guys are raring to go anytime, anyplace, anywhere
(Cosmo, May, 77 things to do to a naked man, M).
Within the magazines, sex was represented as very
important to men, as something that men are willing and
able to engage in anytime,something that men (always)
want. In the extract above, the phrase most of us guys
positions a continual readiness for sex as common and
normative for men,asjust the way guys are,and locates
men within a male sexual drivediscourse (Hollway,
1989). In line with mens reported strong sexual readiness,
it was common for the penis to be represented as having a
mind of its ownand as controlling men:
[B]eing male, I find that sometimes your groin can
take over and its only after the deed is actually done
that you regret sleeping with the particular girl
(Cosmo, January, We ask men answer: Is there ever a
bad time for having sex?M).
In that extract, the author depicted genital controlas a
distinctive characteristic that is inherent in men. The
responsibility for certain actions (later deemed regrettable)
was represented as falling on the groin (penis), which,
presumably, is gratification-focused and needs sex. In such
accounts, the penis is constructed as extrinsic to the self
(Kilmartin, 1999, p. 180); this can function to represent
male sexuality as not only needy/driven, but also as
uncontrollable, which potentially shifts the responsibility
of certain sexual actions (such as infidelity/cheating) away
from the man. Potts (2001) has commented that this inside/
outside distinction with regard to the penis works to
constitute a hegemonic masculine subjectivitywhere
men tend to distance themselves from the [sexual]
behaviours of their bodiesand thus they may also
exonerate themselves from responsibility in sexual matters
(p. 154), including inappropriate, risky, or even coercive
sexual practices.
These magazines also worked on, and reiterated, the
underlying assumption that women desire (or should desire)
men as sexual partners, boyfriends, and, eventually hus-
bands: modern rendering of what Hollway (1989) referred
to as the have/holddiscourse. As mens sexuality was
located in a male sexual drivediscourse, once in a
relationship, (great) heterosex was represented as vital for a
healthyrelationship and to ensure mens fidelity (through
sexual fulfilment). A distinction was made between good
and great sex:
In the male world, bad sex is a contradiction [...] As
long as men are concerned, theres no such thing as an
uneventful erotic experience. There is however a
significant difference between good sex and great
sexthe kind that is so carnally explosive that your
relationship is irrevocably enhanced by it (Cleo, May,
7 ways to get him up! p. 49, M).
Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310 301
The notion of the male worldconstructs men as different
from women and invokes an implicit contrast case, the
female world.’‘Bad sexwas represented as inconceivable
in the male world,but implicitly not so in the female
world.Men are represented as sexual connoisseurs who can
distinguish between goodand greatsex. Greatsex was
represented as enhancing a relationship in ways that could
not then be changed or reversed. This positions great
heterosex as a goal to strive for, not only for its own erotic
sake, but in an instrumental sense (Vanwesenbeeck, 1997)
because it has the functionof enhancing(or even
instigating) a heterosexual relationship.
According to such accounts, the ability to provide great
sex to men is key in fulfilling both mens sexual needs and
womens relational (as well as, perhaps, thier sexual) desires.
If you want to feature in his mind 24-7, leave an
impression where it counts [...]. Personality matters,
but it is no secret that men love women who are not
only good in bed, but who enjoy it too. And we know
this because carnal cowgirls have boyfriends, lovers,
and hubbies who keep coming back for more. All you
need to do is leave him craving a repeat performance
(Cleo, June, Gothca: Secrets of girls who made it
through the first six months, p. 55, F).
Here, a memorable sexual performance was depicted as
more important than personality in terms of retaining a
mans interest. Men were positioned as loving women who
are goodin bed and who also enjoy sex. Being goodin
bed is clearly framed around his sexual desires and
pleasures; her enjoyment of sex is secondary. So being
great at sex, or being the best sexual encounter he had ever
had, was thus portrayed as the way to keep your man:
Want him to think youre the best hes ever had?
Invent a sex trick and watch him go off [...]. If there is
one absolute must-have when it comes to claiming
great in-bed status, its a signature movea complete-
ly original manoeuvre thatll make him never want any
other woman, ever, ever, again (Cosmo, January, How
other women blow his mind,F).
According to such extracts, one way to keep your man
satisfied (and thus faithful) was to please him sexually by
inventingan original sex trickor signature moveso
that he has no excuse to stray.This frames sexuality as
workfor women, as a talent or ability to be developed.
The idea of a signature move invokes a particularly
mechanistic, non-interpersonal view of sexuality, where
pleasure is understood as generic,a signature move would
ostensibly be pleasurable for any/all men, regardless of
their individual sexual preferences. So, greatsex is not
only removed from the particularities of any one interper-
sonal/relational context, but women are subtly set up for
failure, because, how many uniquesexual moves could
there possibly be?
The magazines portrayed men as liking sex (anytime),
but women as having to work on sex and to compete with
other women with whom he has had sex, as well as women
with whom he might potentially have sex (or even just
consider having sex with) in the future in order to be
memorable and ensure his fidelity. This situation sets
women up as competing with each other for mens attention
and (lasting) affection via their sexual technique, which
reiterates the sociocultural importance placed on the
relationshipto womens subjectivity, and sexto mens
subjectivity (e.g., see the widely criticised/discredited work
of John Gray, 1992,1995, which emphasises these
supposed differences,see Potts, 1998, for a critique).
The common reference to great sex as stopping men
from cheating indicates another common theme in the
magazinesaccounts that is linked strongly to a male
sexual drivediscourse (Hollway, 1989)that of all men
are (potential) cheaters. This representation of men as actual
or potential cheaters was prevalent:
Real men confess: the results are in and the stats dont
lie. 44% of men claim they wouldnt cheat on their
girlfriends, 90% of men who take a lie detector test in
infidelity are found guilty, 90% of women who take
the same test are found to have remained monoga-
mous, 54% of men have cheated on their partners,
21% would forgive their partners one-night stand,
compared to 16% of women (Cosmo, January, Guy
talk: Is there any man totally cheat-proof?,M).
Here, the reality depicted was that 54% of men have
cheated, whereas 44% claim they would not. The use of
claimworks to undermine the veracity of such claims,
thus effectively suggesting that these men might also really
be (potential) cheaters, they just would not admit to it.
Cheating (and not admitting to it) was depicted as the way
(most) men are, which works to construct mens cheating as
a normative concern for all heterosexual women. It also
works implicitly to situate women in opposition to menas
normatively not cheaters; thus (cheating) men are considered
to be a strange species to be explained and understood.
Amale sexual drivediscourse was frequently evident
in explanations (and justifications) for mensunfaithful
behaviour. The main reasons provided for why men might
cheat were: to end a relationship they wanted to leave; a
high sex drive; and a lack of sexual satisfaction in their
current relationship. The latter two drew extensively on a
drive discourse. Framed within this, opportunitywas
presented as a reason for cheating:
Another reason [...] is if its an opportunity he cant
refuse [...] if a sexy woman wants to sleep with a guy,
302 Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310
it seems to fly in the face of fate not to take that
chance [...]. Its a brutal truth, but if sex is handed out
on a plate with no strings attached, its a rare boyfriend
who will refuse it [...]. Men are only immune from
temptation when they are genuinely and utterly in love
(Cosmo, January, Guy talk: Is there any man truly
cheat-proof,M).
Such accounts invoked a male sexual drivediscourse
through reference to a man who could/would not refuse an
opportunity for no strings attachedsex. Phrases like no
strings attachedor bind-free, mind-free bonk(Cleo,
February, Sex by numbers: What can numerology reveal
about your sexual personality,F) framed this type of sex as
free sexin opposition to other kinds of (relationship) sex
with conditions or obligations involved (which, on a
purelysexual level, were subtly positioned as less
appealing to men). Representations of mens supposed
constant sexual readiness and their capacity to be unfaithful
can potentially function to produce feelings of insecurity in
a woman regarding the (constant) potential infidelity of her
male partner.
Men were portrayed as only immunefrom such
temptationwhen they were genuinely and utterly in
love.In the extract above lovewas framed as a (rare)
condition, incompatible with cheating and an assurance
against it. This old-fashioned rhetoric positions love as
something that cures all cheating ills.However, men were
also represented as having the capacity to be unfaithful in
(presumably loving) long-term relationships, as a lack of
sexual satisfaction in their current relationship is another
common explanation offered for mens cheating:
Men only go out looking for sex if theyre missing
out on something at homesays Clare... (Cleo,
February, Women who have been there and done
that...tell all!,F).
Here, mens cheating behaviour was portrayed as a
response to inadequate sexual upkeepby his female
partner. This places sexual fulfilment for men as an
important part of heterosexual relationships and as a
necessary way to keep men from straying(unless, or
even if, they are genuinely and utterly in love).
It has been suggested that the construction of men as a
homogenous group is achieved mainly by the invocation of
its supposed natural opposite’—women (Ballaster et al.,
1991). So, what about womens infidelity? Women were
rarely represented as cheaters, but when womens infidelity
was addressed, it was done in much more severe ways,
within more elaborate and negative scenarios, and was
more condemnable, and less forgivable, than mens cheat-
ing behaviour. Women were depicted as more morally
culpable for cheating, without the excuseof a sexual
drive. Responsibility for the cheating, in such accounts, lay
with the woman, rather than being caused by (sexual or
relational) shortcomings on the part of the man on whom
she had cheated. Inadequate sexual upkeep by men was
never an explanation for womens cheating. Another gender
difference was evident in the construction of women as
victims of their male partners cheating, but men as seekers
of revenge for being cheated on by a female partner. Thus
the positions conjured up here for women and men were
quite different.
These kinds of dichotomous constructions can work to
naturalise and normalise perceived behaviour differences
between men and women. The gendering of cheating
behaviour was part of a broader general construction of
men as inherently different from women within the
magazines (e.g., in communication style, skills/abilities,
and personal characteristics). This construction is reminis-
cent of the discursive strategies deployed in pop psychol-
ogy/self-help books by authors such as John Gray (1992,
1995) (i.e., Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus and
Mars and Venus in the Bedroom: A Guide to Lasting
Romance and Passion) and A. Pease and B. Pease (2001,
2004) (i.e., Why Men Dont Listen and Women Cant Read
Maps: How Were Different and What to Do About It and
Why Men Dont Have a Clue and Women Always Need
More Shoes: The Ultimate Guide to The Opposite Sex), to
explain and account for mens and womens behaviour.
This is not surprising, as both magazines often drew on
books such as these (with the authors positioned as
experts) to provide advice and insights into the mysterious
workings of the opposite sex.Here, differences are seen
as natural,sometimes complementary, sometimes prob-
lematic, but largely as the way things are.
The persistent depictions of these naturalgender(ed)
differences is an important aspect of the magazines to
highlight, as they engage in effectively constructing,
perpetuating, and naturalising gendered identities through
polarisation and difference (Hollway, 1989). The represen-
tations of these supposed difference as normalcan
camouflage and naturalise mechanisms that may disem-
power and oppress women by suggesting that gender
differences (that frame the nature of femininity/masculinity
in ways that are congruent with dominant gender ideology)
are natural,unquestionable, and thus potentially un-
changeable.Differences are to be accepted, or worked
around, rather than resisted or challenged.
In Cosmo and Cleo, men were constructed as (potentially
and actually) desiring sex all the time and as being
particularly susceptible to the effects of great sex. Giving
great sex was represented in instrumental terms for women,
as a way to gain a (desired) relationship and to ensure
mens fidelity. The focus on men as potential cheaters also
heightens the need for women to develop sexual skills that
Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310 303
men (supposedly) desire to keep them from straying.The
extent to which cheating was framed as always wrongfits
within the unquestioned promotion of monogamous hetero-
sexual relationships as central to womens identity and
well-being.
Pleasure, Performance, and the Male Ego
Pleasure and performance were represented as intersecting
(and sometimes competing) components of male hetero-
sexuality. Pleasuring a woman sexually was commonly
associated with producing a womens orgasm, and as
indicative of mens sexual competence and notions of a
male ego.Orgasm was extensively discussed and depicted
as the goal of heterosex for both women and men, and there
was an emphasis on it being the main part of pleasure
during sex. This orgasmic imperative(see Potts, 2000)
works to re-affirm a traditional model of masculine
sexuality (as discussed earlier) as the most important one,
where sex equals penetration, and coitus culminates in
mens (and sometimes womens) orgasm. This association
is the product of culturally ordered meanings embedded in
particular social practices,where the meanings of orgasm
derive from social, not biological, contexts(Jackson &
Scott, 2001,p.105).Cleo and Cosmo engaged in a
gendering of orgasm: mens orgasm was constructed as
unproblematic and automatic—‘realistically a man could
come in 2 min if he really wanted to(Cleo, February, What
men want,M)whereas womens orgasm was constructed
as complicated and difficult to achieve’—‘every woman
seems to have her own cryptic orgasmic code [...] it could
literally take me years to get it right(Cosmo, May, What
makes a great date?,M).
The (difficult) productionof womens pleasure by men
was closely related to notions of a male ego.A male ego
was commonly invoked (in relation to heterosex and
beyond) to explain menstendenciesor to shed light on
their sexual behaviour. Its existence was never questioned.
Rather, it was represented as just the way men are.Men
were again constructed as a homogenous group, with this a
general feature:
Guys are much more concerned about their perfor-
mance in bed than they like to admit...its because the
male ego is so fragile. Hes terrified that someone else
may have satisfied you more[...]. Women are used to
soothing the male ego: reassuring him that he is the
best weve ever had (Cleo, March: Was sex with his ex
better?F).
This male ego was used to represent men as fragile when
it comes to suggested or actual inadequacy regarding their
sexual performance. In this extract, the supposed fragility of
the male ego was utilised to account for mens insecurity
about performance. That such information was reiterated
through the magazines suggests it as both newsworthyfor
women and as normative for men, thus locating it as a
potential issue for all heterosexual women. Womens role
was one of reassurance and support, a role that can be
associated with traditional feminine passivity within hetero-
sex (Gavey & McPhillips, 1999). This can also be located
within an emotion work(Hochschild, 1983) framework:
Women recognise their male sexual partner may be
experiencing potential feelings of inadequacy, and thus
they seek to relieve this uncertainty by reassuring him that
he matches a heterosexual sexual idealand that he is
sexually adequate (or better). The focus was thus shifted
from womans participation or her own pleasure to her
worry about the male ego. The idea of a fragile male ego
and sexual sensitivity were framed as significant for men
(and, by implication, for women):
Despite the bluff and bravado, men are sensitive
creatures. This becomes problematic in that most guys
also have the innate belief that they are better-than-
average loversthe rest of us assume were merely
spectacular. If you want to watch a man dissolve
before your eyes, tell him his sexual technique could
do with some work. Ladies and gentlemaninstant
impotence (Cleo, January: Good relationship, average
sex?M).
In that extract, the use of extreme language (e.g.,
dissolve) constructs the issue as a serious one and the
possible act of telling a man his technique may require
some work as severe. It further suggests that women should
not bring up mens potential sexual shortcomings directly
because no one would want to make a man dissolve.
Kilmartin (1999) has suggested that (hetero)sex has been a
major way for men to demonstrate their masculinity(p.
185), and thus feelings of sexual inadequacy can place that
masculinity in jeopardy. With sexual performance framed
as central to both the male ego and masculinity, the act of
commenting on either is positioned as one with serious
implications. It also paradoxically positions women as
powerfuland as having the ability to cause sexual
anxietyby pointing out mens sexual inadequacies.
However, the magazines discouraged this on many levels
and advocated subtletyand tactwhen it came to any
sexual communication.
These ideas rely on, and reproduce, a stereotypically
gendered understanding of what it means to be male and
female (in general, and in heterosexual encounters):
A guys biggest fear is that if he doesnt know exactly
how and when to push every erogenous button on
your body, youll think hes some kind of inexperi-
enced geek. Sometimes with a women, I suspect that
304 Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310
what Im doing is wrong, but asking her for guidance
is like putting my manhood on the chopping block,
admits Robert, 25 (Cosmo, February, Guy talk.M).
In the last line, Robert reported that asking a woman for
guidance in a sexual encounter (even when he thinks he
may be doing something wrong) is too risky. For him to
admit to a woman during sex that he thinks he may need
guidance was represented as problematic for him, arguably
because it undermines his expertise and the notion of being
in controlof the (sexual) situation. Again, the use of
extreme language (a guysbiggest fear) positions not
knowing exactly how to please a woman sexually as a very
serious concern of men. Male sexuality was framed as a
trajectory, in which past experience (ideally) leads to the
acquisition of sexual skills and knowledge. Inexperience
was constructed in negative terms, and experiencewas
framed as (ideally) synonymous with womens sexual
pleasure. These accounts can work together to reproduce
inexperience as always a potential identityrisk for men,
and thus any suggestion of mensineptitudeand inexpe-
rienceas something women should avoid. Women, in that
extract, were positioned as not telling men what they like
sexually, as being the (silent) recipient of mens sexual
technique, whether goodor bad.
As others have noted, the emphasis on menssexual
techniqueleaves no room for the man to be anything
but expert(Crawford et al., 1994). It was suggested that
men should know what to do in a sexual encounter; they
should be a sexpert(Potts, 1998), and that generic sexual
experience was, on the whole, good for improving mens
sexual skills. Although pleasuring a woman was portrayed
as an important part of male sexuality and masculinity, this
pleasure may be as much, or more, about the mans ability
to produce that pleasure (e.g., see Gilfoyle et al., 1992), as
about the womens pleasure per se. For example, Seidler
(1989) has argued that, even though the focus may have
shifted to making sure a female partner experiences
pleasureduring (hetero)sex, this still reflects back on
the male ego(p. 39). So, womens sexual pleasure can
serve a positive identity function for men who have sex
with women. This point of critique is perhaps a
complex one. We are not suggesting that women
experiencing sexual pleasure should serve no positive
identity functions for men. However, what is notable is the
gendering of sexual experience in the magazines, such that
womens production of mens pleasure was typically
framed in relationship terms, whereas mens production of
womens pleasure was framed in individualistic masculine
identity terms.
Although men were repeatedly represented as taking
pleasure in giving pleasure,which appears to situate
heterosex within a reciprocity discourse (Braun et al.,
2003), it was the appearance of womens sexual pleasure
that was depicted as reassuring men about their sexual
technique:
Guys love screamersthey make them feel less
insecure about their technique. They think, The
louder she yells, the better lover I must be. Im
obviously doing something right to get her so worked
up[...] theyre proud of their ability to turn up your
volume(Cosmo, March, Pump up the volume.M).
Men were represented as feeling less insecure(but still
insecure) about their sexual technique when women
provided audible signs of pleasure during sex. As womens
orgasm does not have clear visible signs (in contrast to
ejaculation, which is typically taken as an indication of
mens orgasm), audible signs of pleasure (e.g., moaning,
screaming) are taken to be key indicators of womens
sexual pleasure (Roberts et al., 1995). Roberts et al. (1995)
argued that the demand for noise indicates...that hetero-
sexuality becomes an economy in which the womans
orgasm is exchanged for the mans work(p. 528).
However, as this auditory indication is not necessarily
based on any realpleasure on the part of the women, the
sceptre of faking pleasure is always possible. Faking
pleasure or pretending orgasm was frequently addressed in
the magazines:
STIFLE THESE SECRETS [...] The time you faked it:
We know, we know, every woman says shes
pretended to orgasm at least once, and no man thinks
that it was with him. We prefer to keep it that way and
retain the fantasy that were super-studs in bed, thanks
very much (Cosmo, February, New sex: The surprising
things he notices,M).
Faking orgasm was framed as something men did not
want to know about. So, although genuine female pleasure
was desired, the appearance of orgasm also assured men of
their sexual technique. One possible effect of this could be
to lead women to fake pleasure in order to satisfy their
sexual partners ego and to enhance mens feelings of
sexual competency (see Roberts et al., 1995).
It is important also to consider the ideas and assumptions
about sexual communicationthat operated in many of
these accounts. In the early extracts in this section, for
example, sex was implicitly, ideally constructed as essen-
tially non-communicative, in that it should just happen, yet
produce pleasure for both without any communication
necessary as to such things as sexual technique, prefer-
ences, and so on. Accounts of a male ego can be seen to
work against any discussion of sexual pleasure and desires
related to technique. However, the magazines also simulta-
Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310 305
neously advocated sexual communication as key in produc-
ing great (hetero)sex:
You may have to gently guide him to your erogenous
parts [...]. Weve said it a thousand times: communi-
cation is the basis of any good sex life (Cleo, April,
What sizzles and what fizzles about sex? F).
Here, gentlerather than explicit guidance was encour-
aged to ensure womens sexual pleasure. Women who
desired change in a mans sexual technique were typically
encouraged to communicate it with caution:
Teach him the right technique [...] To work on his
technique without bruising his manhood say you saw a
cool new move in Cosmo (Cosmo, January, Did you,
um, come? Cosmos girl guide to getting there.F).
Here, again, the assumption of a fragile male ego
informed the advice given. Across the data, the existence
of a male ego was not questioned, nor was it depicted as
changeable. Instead, accounts focused on how women
should work around the male ego and/or how they should
work with it. The male ego was not represented as desirable
or ideal; it was depicted as just the way things are, a male
foible that (heterosexual) women have to live with.
Therefore, it was constructed as a reality to be lived with
and dealt with by women, rather than by men. One potential
impact of this is that although women were encouraged to
be (sexually) confident, they were also encouraged not to
speak their minds directly and to take a subtle approach in
relation to sexual (performance) communication. For in-
stance, there was some advice on how to get a male partner
to sexually please you(mainly in Cosmo) if you were not
sexually satisfied in a relationship. However, these were
often laden with instruction on how to do so subtly, without
bruising his manhood(e.g., Private[s] tutor: Teach him
how to give you grade-A orgasms every time,Cosmo,
March, F;Help him to read your mind [and body] in bed,
Cosmo, May, F). The representation of male sexuality as
sensitive to, inherently linked to, and influenced by, a
fragile male ego works to position mens feelings of
competence as crucial and as a cause for concern in sexual
encounters. We argue that through such accounts, these
magazines construct of the male ego as something thats
ontologically real, potentially limiting womens (and mens)
sexual and relational possibilities.
Mens and womens pleasure and performance and the
male ego were thus complexly intertwined in the mag-
azinesrepresentation of male (and female) sexuality. These
representations framed contemporary mens (hetero)sexual-
ity as centred on performance, his pleasure, and the
production of womens pleasure (i.e., her orgasm). This
construction worked to (re)produce a potentially fragile
subjectivity for/in men that women readers were encour-
aged to take account of. Although these magazines are
ostensibly concerned with women and womens pleasure,
and have the capacity to be critical of men, they did not
question (ostensibly) problematic behaviour, such as mens
cheating,or supposed masculine characteristics, such as
the male ego.Instead, women were instructed on how
they can work around these (potentially) undesirable, yet
unchanging (or unchangeable) masculine ways. Further-
more, the magazines rarely discussed other forms of sexual
pleasure that did not involve orgasm. Even with such a
focus on orgasm, they did not discuss oral sex for women
nearly as often as penetrative sex, as a (potentially easier)
way to achieve the sought after (womens) orgasm. Not
only did the magazines perpetuate a traditional masculine
model of sexuality, they uncritically reproduced a wide
array of gendered assumptions regarding men and women,
relationships, and, indeed, heterosex.
Implications for Female Sexuality, Gender, and Gender
Relations
The mass media contribute to the construction of normative
(and disruptive) gender roles and sexuality (Gadsden,
2000). Our analysis has shown that earlier feminist critiques
of womens magazines (e.g., Machin & Thornborrow,
2003;Peirce,1997) are equally applicable to more
contemporary issues of Cleo and Cosmo. Although the
magazines advocate sexual agency and individual autono-
my for women, this could more accurately be identified as
pseudo liberation and sexual empowerment, particularly
when one considers representations of male sexuality in
conjunction with representations of female sexuality.
Cleo and Cosmo reaffirmed the notion of sexual and
general gender difference by constructing male sexuality
and female sexuality and womens and mens relationship
desires as inherently different (despite some overlaps). Male
sexuality was framed as purely sexual, with relationships as
almost foist upon men, whereas women were framed as
ultimately desiring relationships (as much as, if not more
than, just sex). As noted, these constructions mirror the
discourses often deployed in pop psychology/self-help
books (i.e., Gray, 1992,1995; A. Pease & B. Pease, 2001,
2004). There, as in much of our data, men and women are
positioned as fundamentally and naturallydifferent, as
inhabiting different worlds, having different subjectivities,
and different needs/desires (e.g., see Potts, 1998). Men need
sex, and women, although now sexual,still need/want
relationships with men.
It is worth noting that representations of female sexuality
were not as limited as they have been in the past: Women
were offered some form of sexual agency. The magazines
engaged in the marketing of liberatedheterosexuality,
where men are objects of desire for women. However,
306 Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310
whereas women do not/should not need men per se, they
should nonetheless want a man (imperfect as men are) and
want to have a monogamous relationship with him.
Women, therefore, remain embedded within a heterosexist
imperative, where they should take part in the institution of
heterosexuality. Our analysis supports previous research
that, although womens magazines may recognise women
as sexual,they have not abandoned the view that women
are primarily sex objects, whose desire is best fulfilled by
remaking themselves into commodities that are sexually
available to men and designed to attract [and keep] men
(Krassas et al., 2001, p. 768). These magazines, then, can
be seen as part of a cultural apparatus that purports to
assist women to be heterosexually attractive, to be coy,
alluring, sexy,and flirtatious, in order to find true love
and to catch a man,and then to maintain his interest
(Overall, 1999, p. 298) through great sex.
These constructions offer competing and contradictory
possibilities for male sexuality and female sexuality.
Masculinity has been privileged within conventional het-
erosexuality (e.g., Holland et al., 1998; Philaretou & Allen,
2001), and our analysis supports an ongoing overall
privileging of male sexuality in womensmagazines. In
Cleo and Cosmo mens sexual needs/desires were priori-
tised. It was largely women, rather than men, who were
expected to change (or to mischievously guidemen to
change their supposedly undesired behaviours) to make
things workin a relationship. Women were informed of
various things they must do to attract (and keep) men, as
well as things they must avoid. We argue that this subtly
places women in a precarious position as the needy
ones in heterosexual relations. Women are positioned as
having sex to offer men, whereas men are positioned as
having it all (i.e., sex and a relationship) to offer women.
Men appeared to have relationships almost beside
themselves and their better judgement, whereas a rela-
tionship was situated as the ultimate purpose of womens
existence.
So, although Cleo and Cosmo might suggest equality,
their accounts belie this argument and suggest an inequality
where men have the realpower: to go away (i.e., leave a
relationship); not to havethat particular woman; not to be
The One.So in very subtle ways, these highly gendered
messages were reproduced, with the potential to be taken-
up by women who read the magazines. Our analysis
supports Starrs (1999, as cited in Gauntlett, 2002, p. 190)
observation that for the most part...womens magazines are
pushing the same message they were half a century ago:
womens existence revolves around landing the right guy
although, as Gauntlett (2002) adds, todays technique is
great sex rather than great cooking(p. 190). Although the
magazinescontent is packaged under the liberated woman
motif,they are just pushing another version of the
snagging and keeping a guytheme (Starr, 1999, as cited
in Gauntlett, 2002, p. 190).
It is important to note that the content of these magazines
does not emerge in a social, discursive, or ideological
vacuum. Instead, it arises out of, and reflects, contemporary
discourses of gender, gender relations, and sexuality.
Moreover, although we have not focused on this aspect, it
is important also to note that magazine content does not
exist independently of commercial interests (Stevens,
Maclaran, & Brown, 2003). It has long been argued that
womens magazines are mainly a means for advertising and
selling products that claim to curewomens feelings of
inferiority and inadequacy (e.g., Lindner, 2004). Indeed the
content of womens magazines is designed to sell the
magazines, but the magazines themselves depend on
advertising (rather than their cover prices) for their revenue
(Wolf, 1991), and they aim to provide desirable advertising
space.
So what might be the outcome of the representations
these magazines contain? Although not targeted at them, it
is our contention that heterosexual men, as a group and
individually, potentially gain from the ways womens
magazines represent male and female sexuality, as women
are encouraged to partake in sexual activities that men
(supposedly) desire. However, mens sexual subjectivity
was also positioned precariously through these dominant
constructions, and womens sexuality was implicitly framed
as dependent on mens sexuality and sexual competence.
Furthermore, women were not constructed as inherently
sexual in the way that men were. Rather, female sexuality
was (implicitly) constructed as catching upto (an ever
present and pre-existent) male sexuality, which ostensibly
constitutes realsexuality. This construction reinforces the
notion that sex and sexuality remain, to some extent, largely
mens domains (Jackson, 1984). In various ways, then, the
magazines ultimately worked to reinforce traditional gen-
dered roles: men as sexual; women as relational.
Through destabilising the unquestioned status of the
heterosexist imperative, the prioritisation of a traditional
masculinemodel of sexuality, and representations of
naturalgender(ed) differences within media representa-
tion, we hope to encourage others to question its taken-for-
granted nature. We suggest that these magazines ought to
offer an increased focus on more diverse forms of
sexualities and pleasures, with a recognition and emphasis
on women-centredpleasures and desires, if heterosexual-
ity really is to change to a realegalitarian sexuality. From
a constructionist perspective, media such as Cleo and
Cosmo do not represent the reality of womens and mens
sexual desires, they produce the possibilities, and indeed
the realities,of womens (and mens) desires and
fantasies, and potentialities for action alongside these.
However, as we noted in our introduction, the ways in
Sex Roles (2006) 55:295310 307
which such representations are taken up are also important
for understanding the ongoing construction of male and
female (hetero)sexuality. Therefore, future researchers in
this area may seek to examine how such texts and themes
are taken up and engaged in by heterosexual female and
male readers and whether/how they are resisted, challenged,
or accepted by readers.
Acknowledgments We thank members of the psychology depart-
ments Gender and Critical Psychology Group and two anonymous
reviewers for helpful feedback on an earlier version of this paper.
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... Beyond the naturalization of orgasm, the "sexual revolution" of the 1960s contributed to the belief that both female and male orgasms should be the desired and normal outcome of sexual interaction (Lavie & Willig, 2005;Nicolson & Burr, 2003). Female orgasm has become a symbol of liberated and agentic female sexuality (Farvid & Braun, 2006;Gerhard, 2000;Gill, 2009). ...
... Braun et al., 2003;Frith, 2013a;McPhillips et al., 2001) and orgasm is expected to be experienced by both partners. The typical coital sequence involves penetration, female orgasm, and then the male orgasm as the climax or peak of the coital script (Farvid & Braun, 2006;Opperman et al., 2013;Potts, 2000). It has been argued that the coital imperative reflects a primarily phallocentric construction of heterosex (e.g. Brown et al., 2018;Frith, 2013a;Gilfoyle et al., 1992). ...
... Frith (2013a), in her overview of literature regarding orgasm, documented the privileging of male sexuality in the coital imperative with female orgasm occurring in order for the male orgasm to "complete the event". For example, women's magazines consistently fashion penetration as being equivalent to sex and male orgasm is provided with a superior status in comparison to female orgasm (Farvid & Braun, 2006;Moran & Lee, 2011). In addition, Beres and Farvid (2010), Brown et al. (2018), and Potts (2000) commented on the presence of the coital imperative and the privileging of male sexuality and pleasure over female sexuality and pleasure in the accounts of their female participants. ...
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... For example, the partner refusing sex was often portrayed as having an affair or subsequently having sexually fulfilling relationships (see below). The depiction of "healthy sexual desire" was more common for Ben than for Kate, echoing the traditional gendering of sexual desire-active male and passive or absent female desire-in the wider social context (Farvid & Braun, 2006). ...
... The predominant explanations for Kate's sexual refusal, and the predominant consequences of Ben's sexual refusal for Kate, were poor "body image", low self-esteem, depression and anxiety (see also Kitzinger & Powell, 1995 unattractive-"Kate put on weight" (MT/VB), "Kate didn't look like she used to" (FS/VB)-evoking the notion that, as the object of (heterosexual) male desire, women need to maintain their "sexual capital" in order to retain their man (Farvid & Braun, 2006;Frith, 2013). Clarke and Braun (2019) described sexual capital as "the sociocultural notion that sexual attractiveness is a personal asset that confers power on those who possess it, and by investing in our physical appearance we can gain a sexual capital advantage" ...
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Girls’ magazines play an important role in the maintenance of gender perceptions and the creation of gender by young girls. Due to a recent resurgence within public discussion and mediated content of feminist, postfeminist, and antifeminist repertoires, centered on what femininity entails, young girls are growing up in an environment in which conflicting messages are communicated about their gender. To assess, which shared norms and values related to gender are articulated in girl culture and to what extent these post/anti/feminist repertoires are prevalent in the conceptualization of girlhood, it is important to analyze magazines as vehicles of this culture. The current study analyzes if and how contemporary postfeminist thought is articulated in popular girl’s magazines. To reach this goal, we conducted a thematic analysis of three popular Dutch teenage girls’ magazines (N = 27, from 2018), Fashionchick , Cosmogirl , and Girlz . The results revealed that the magazines incorporate feminist, antifeminist, and as a result, postfeminist discourse in their content. The themes in which these repertoires are articulated are centered around: the body, sex, male–female relationships, female empowerment, and self-reflexivity. The magazines function as a source of gender socialization for teenage girls, where among other gendered messages a large palette of postfeminist themes are part of the magazines’ articulation of what it means to be a girl in contemporary society.
... Our thematic analytic procedure was carried out in six phases based on the work done by Braun and Clarke (2006) and Farvid and Braun (2006). In Phase 1, the testimonials from the category of renters and lenders (from 2015 to 2016) on Style Lend's blog included testimonial questions such as "why did you start renting/lending from Style Lend" and "why do you like the concept of renting vs. buying," which were thoroughly read. ...
... The selected closet sharing platform in our study may not be representing the overall collaborative consumption of luxury fashion brands. Similar to the work of Farvid and Braun (2006), the results of our analysis are grounded in a close-reading of the data (testimonials) which recognizes a possible limitations for closet sharing motivations. Second, our data are limited to 17 testimonials. ...
Article
This article investigates consumers’ motives for using closet sharing services to satisfy their desire for luxury fashion brands. A thematic analytic procedure is carried out in six phases. Qualitative data in the form of testimonials from both renters and lenders were collected from Style Lend’s blog, also known as “The Style Lend Insider.” Findings indicate that there are eight main categories of motives for sharing closets. These motives are fashion innovativeness, hedonic experience, economic, sustainability, utilitarian, social, need for uniqueness, and no burden of ownership. Our study also provides theoretical and practical insights into relevant stakeholders related to the collaborative fashion consumption of luxury brands.
... Critical qualitative reach on masculinities shows how dominant heteronormative constructions of male sexuality are centred on the notion of sexual "performance" and skill (Farvid & Braun, 2006;Potts, 2000b). This is the idea that the ideal man is sexually experienced, skilled, virile, confident, ever-ready for sex, and able to attract multiple sexual partners and always bring women to orgasm, as evidence of this skill (Potts, 2000a(Potts, , 2000b. ...
... This categorization, it should be pointed out, is not a rigid one as studies in both perspectives have acknowledged the importance of the other perspective. As Mah and Binik (2001) point out, the biopsychosocial perspective to orgasm has been gaining momentum as it seems to offer a reconciling path forward by taking both biological and psychological phenomena into account in socio-cultural contexts (in line with Farvid and Braun, 2006;Huysamen, 2019;Laan and Both 2008). Whilst the biological perspective of orgasms is out of the scope of this study, we do, however, acknowledge the intertwined relationship between lived experiences and the human body (e.g., Carman, 1999). ...
Article
Drawing on a study consisting of 29 multimodal accounts of orgasms, we make visible processes, emotions, and notions of playfulness that highlight the critical role of orgasms in transcending the fleeting distinction between reality and play. As sexual pleasure does not necessarily result from experiencing an orgasm, our data also reveals how playful strategies are enacted in order to mitigate ambiguity and societal norms. Instead of seeing the orgasm as a physiological or psychological change in an individual or as an epitome of “good” sex, the multimodal accounts employed in the study reveal attitudes, assumptions, and expectations related to playful pleasure.
... Although depictions of oral sex are rampant in media, most focus on fellatio in heterosexual relationships. 2 Cunnilingus, the oral stimulation of the vulva or clitoris, is rarely depicted or discussed in media despite cunnilingus being cited as among the most pleasurable heterosexual behaviors reported by adolescent girls and adult women (Bay-Cheng et al. 2009;Ritchers et al. 2006). Even in magazine articles dedicated to women's sexual pleasure, there are few mentions of cunnilingus (Farvid and Braun 2006). In the rare cases when cunnilingus is depicted in media, those depictions still feed into traditional quid pro quo contexts or intended to show off a man's sexual prowess (Braun et al. 2003;Taylor 2005). ...
Chapter
In May 2018, an old interview resurfaced with DJ Khaled in The Breakfast Club, a popular morning radio show. In this interview, he mentioned that he does not perform cunnilingus on his wife, repeatedly stating, “I don’t do that” and explained “[there are] different rules for men.” Although depictions of oral sex are rampant in hip hop, most focus on fellatio in heterosexual relationships. Narratives are shifting both in society and within hip hop regarding female sexuality and cunnilingus, particularly with the influx of female rappers and sex positive lyricism. This chapter aims to examine the evolution of sexual scripts surrounding cunnilingus in hip hop from a sex positive framework and evaluates how toxic masculinity and misogyny negatively affect sex positive sexual scripts.
... Some were ostensibly interested in girls' pleasures and desires. Whether such interest was based on genuine mutuality and reciprocity, or imperatives around the 'accomplishment' of pleasing a woman, particularly given the male-centric, eroticized and performative nature of female pleasure that predominates in much mainstream pornography, was unclear (see Roberts et al. 1995;Allen 2006;Farvid and Braun 2006). The perception that girls may be 'more sexual than they let on' was, meanwhile, perhaps predicated upon the eroticization of the 'unknowable' nature of feminine (hetero)sexuality. ...
Article
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This paper draws upon research conducted in a co-educational independent boarding school in England to explore the role of pornography in students’ school-based sexual cultures. Drawing upon Mechling’s conceptualization of boarding schools as ‘total institutions’, I explore how pornography acted as both ‘play’ and ‘ritual’ through which participants asserted agency and control while producing a gendered social order surrounding sex and sexuality. Participants who spoke about pornography drew upon dominant understandings of masculine and feminine (hetero)sexuality when positioning themselves and one another regarding pornography. They tended to construct viewing pornography as a ‘typical’ and ‘normal’ part of masculine (hetero)sexuality but as antithetical to feminine (hetero)sexuality. Some of the boys expressed ambivalence and uncertainty about pornography, but this was often grounded in taken-for-granted gendered constructs about sexual performance and accomplishment. Socially approved expressions of agency and control within the research environment were, therefore, both reflective and constitutive of a gendered and heteronormative social order. I suggest that sex education should attend to the role that pornography plays as a cultural resource through which young people construct, express and designate gendered sexual subjectivities and social roles.
Thesis
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This thesis aims to explore young women’s relationship with feminism against the backdrop of a long-running media claim that ‘feminism is dead’ from a feminist-influenced poststructuralist perspective. Aapola, Gonick, and Harris (2004) note how young women tend to be constructed in three specific ways: 1) as repudiating a feminist subjectivity, 2) as apolitical and apathetic, and 3) as interpreting the world through an individualistic lens. I agree with theirs and Griffin’s (2001) sentiment that many assumptions have been made about young women’s relationships with feminism. I sought to build on previous research by conducting three studies. Study 1 and Study 2 were both media-text studies which investigated contemporary discourses relating to gender and feminism which are made available in (S1) women’s monthly magazines and (S2) online feminist blogs. Study 3 used mini-focus groups with young women aged 18-30 years, in order to examine how discourses around feminism are co-constructed, as well as to identify which discourses from media (specifically women’s magazines and feminist blogs) women reproduced and/or challenged in their talk. A feminist-informed poststructuralist discourse analysis was used to analyse each dataset. This research identifies not only a strong underlying core of individualism running throughout participants’ talk (and operating across both media datasets), but also participants frequently repudiated terms such as ‘feminism’ and ‘women’s rights’ and instead positioned themselves as ‘equal rights advocate’. While participants deployed a discourse of gender neutrality to advocate a degendering of women’s rights issues to being ‘human rights’, participants were deploying this discourse to suggest that men ‘have it bad too’. Many participants seemed to prefer to look at equality issues through a gender-neutral lens, and some participants felt unable to adopt a feminist subjectivity due to its perceived ‘exclusion’ of men. A feminist subjectivity was constructed by participants as passive and dependent. Instead, participants appeared to adopt the (apparently) active subject position of the ‘can-do girl’, who has individual agency and does not need to rely on support from the state, nor have any need for involvement in collective action such as feminist politics.
Article
This book integrates new material from the eighteenth and nineteenth century periodical press, research with contemporary readers, the authors' critical reading of past and present magazines and a clear discussion of theoretical approaches from literary criticism, sociology and cultural theory. The development of the genre, and its part in the historical process of forging modern definitions of gender, class and race are analysed through critical readings and a discussion of readers' negotiations with the contradictory pleasures of the magazine and its constricting ideal of femininity.
Chapter
The topic of this chapter is the context of women’s power and powerlessness in heterosexual interactions. Many feminist scholars have stressed the relative powerlessness of women in sexual encounters with men. This asymmetry has been explained in terms of differential economic and social positions (e.g. Worth, 1989; Kippax et al., 1990; Gupta and Weiss, 1993), of differential sexual socialization and prior victimization of women (e.g. Russell, 1984; Allers and Benjack, 1991; Holland et al., 1992) and as a product of the prevailing definitions of (hetero)sexuality (e.g. Burt, 1983; Vance, 1984; Komter, 1985). Dominant discourses of heterosexuality and connected (institutional and social) practices provide an unequal distribution of subject and object positions for women and for men (Hollway, 1984a; Smart, 1995; Tiefer, 1995).