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It’s sex survey season for women’s magazines

October 11th, 2006

Dr Petra

Every woman dreads arriving at a party only to discover she’s wearing exactly the same dress as another female guest. Yesterday we had the media equivalent of this with two women’s magazines press releasing their ‘surveys’ on the same day.

Both Glamour and Cosmopolitan tried to grab the headlines, and although both got a bit of coverage you can bet they’d have had more luck if they’d managed to not sell in their surveys to the media at the same time (and also if North Korea had held off on their nuclear tests too, which left less space for chat about relationships and shoes).

Glamour magazine’s survey of 3000 women revealed the average British woman:
owns 24 pairs of shoes
wants to marry George Clooney and also wishes to be impregnated by Ewan McGregor
has slept with eight men (for at least 50% women one of these men will be a work colleague)

Women who live in Newcastle thought they were overweight, but women from Birmingham claimed to have the best bodies. 11% of women would apparently sleep with their boss to get promoted.

We don’t know of course if any of these things are really true. If you’re given a list of celebrities you’d like to marry women will pick a choice – doesn’t mean they’d actually answer this way if open questions were asked. Same goes for leading questions, if you asked about being promoted at work probably nobody would mention sleeping with the boss to get ahead – but if that’s an option given to you then you may make that selection. It’s also pretty unlikely that all women in Newcastle felt bad or Brummies were confident – more likely there was a slight difference in the percentage of respondents in these regions, which has been spun to imply a ‘significant’ result.

Anyway, on to Cosmopolitan who tried a slightly different tack with their ‘ManLab 2006’ survey. Technically you’d think they’d win in the coverage competition over Glamour since their survey had such a catchy title, but this wasn’t the case. I’d already had a heads up the survey was happening since they rang me a while back to ask if I could help interpret their data because they didn’t understand it. Since the survey wasn’t very good I obviously couldn’t help, however it did make it to the newspapers, with the claim that British men are now like Bridget Jones. Single men, it seems, are looking for love, not one night stands. 79% of respondents said they wanted to marry as soon as possible, 84% of men said their sexual fantasies were about their girlfriend rather than other women, 62% felt it was natural to be faithful 83% thought sex was better in a long term relationship although 56% of men believed sex on a first date made them like women more.

The thing is, if you’re in a relationship you’re going to be pressured to say nice stuff about your partner. You’re not going to feel able to say that sex is worse when you’re in a long term relationship and that you’d rather be fantasising about and sleeping with other people. By targeting men in relationships the data will be skewed (particularly if you phrase questions in a way that implies there are socially undesirable answers).

Unfortunately the ManLab survey got even less coverage than the Glamour one – where papers went for women liking shoes and Clooney rather than men being keen on romance and monogamy. Perhaps not surprising since they press are never really keen to portray men as ‘naturally faithful’ – whatever Cosmo gamely claims, but they’ll always be eager to promote the ‘women love their shoes’ angle.

It isn’t clear why both magazines went for these particular angles, what they were trying to say, or why both surveys were launched on the same day. Today they were joined by another women’s magazine survey. This time More was in the papers claiming that 85% of men aged 18-34 found fake boobs a turn off. Apparently this is a warning to women to spend their money on clothes or shoes not cosmetic surgery since men apparently don’t notice or dislike it. Strange contrast this with your average lads mag that not only sees big boobs as mandatory, but also run competitions so you can win your girl a new set of knockers.

The More survey, is the latest in a line of magazine polls out this week. Glamour and Cosmo were preceded by Men’s Health launching a ‘study’ and FHM launched their ‘survey’ at the close of last week. That means virtually every day for the past five working days a UK glossy magazine aimed at women or men has tried, and succeeded to get press coverage for their product via a survey. None of the results from these surveys have supported each other and most of the resulting data has neither matched what’s actually happening within modern relationships, nor been in any way interesting or accurate.

You have to ask yourself why are these magazines doing this now? Magazines always claim they run these surveys to inform them of their reader’s views, but that seems daft given the kind of questions they ask of their readers – and also given they have stacks of other more accurate data to rely on. Is there something special about October that means they have to enhance or justify their market position? Is it the case that one publisher decided to go with a survey and rivals did the same? Or is it just a symptom of our overloading of the media with false ‘surveys’? And why do newspapers keep running these surveys?

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