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Lad’s mags score own goal

April 20th, 2007

Dr Petra

Last week you may remember the report from Ofsted praising lad’s magazines for offering the opportunity to give sex advice to teen boys. This came as something of a surprise to educators, medics, sexual health advisors and many journalists since lads mags don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to their sex coverage.

Due to the misplaced endorsement from Ofsted a number of educators, campaigners and sexual health practitioners were worried that it would become increasingly difficult to hold lad’s magazines to account over problem coverage since they could claim Ofsted had given them the all clear if criticised.

However, today editors from two lad’s magazines not only managed to undo the backing Ofsted had given them (and in the process shown Ofsted up in a bad light), but also went on record to say what the industry had known for years – that they systematically resist giving good sex coverage to their readers.

In a feature by Rachel Gallagher in Press Gazette two editors disagreed with the report that had praised them and argued they had no responsibility for providing sex information.

Loaded magazine’s editor Martin Daubney was quoted as saying “It’s not our job to educate people on the perils of sexually transmitted diseases, the perils of young pregnancies or the perils of Aids. That’s the job of government or parents or health authorities. Men’s mags have never set out and said ‘you must wear a condom, and don’t forget about Aids’. Men’s magazines if anything are the opposite of that — we’re the good time. If you mention to people about gonorrhoea and syphilis it ruins the fun. It’s lights on at the end of the party.”

Many of us working to provide sex information via the media know this is their editorial policy but it’s chilling to see a men’s magazine editor claiming to want to give their reader the opposite of safer sex information, constructing unsafe sex as the ‘good time’ or ‘fun’ option. And whilst I agree it’s not the place for magazines to be the main source of sex information, if we are hoping for parents and teachers to provide accurate sex education it’s undone when magazines tell their readers that fun or good sex equals sex without a condom.

Also within the feature Derek Harbinson editor of Maxim stated “We have to get things through as entertainment — you can’t sit and lecture people. There’s nothing very sexy about a feature about chlamydia — that’s not our job as an entertainment magazine. Our job is to give people social ammunition to go out and live better lives.”
Which is a curious thing to say – implying that giving people the ‘social ammunition’ to ‘live better lives’ does not include giving them any advice on sexual health.

In both cases the editors interpreted sex coverage as having to mean either ‘sex education’ or sexually transmitted infections that misses the point. There’s no reason why you can’t include sex coverage in your magazine that might cover anything from anal sex to threesomes, from how to tell if someone fancies you to how to give a partner a great orgasm (or enjoy one yourself whilst you’re at it). Sex features might cover STIs but could equally discuss porn, masturbation, fantasy and desire.

When criticised it’s common for lad’s mags to use the standard rhetoric of it’s not their job to educate, sex advice is ‘boring’ and that they want to be entertaining. But this is a cover for the fact that much of their sex coverage is neither useful nor entertaining – and it’s well known that many lads’ magazines (and women’s ones) shy away from anything too explicit for fear of losing advertising revenue.

The result is a series of samey features written by people who don’t know much about sex full of quotes from equally under qualified ‘sexperts’. Nobody’s expecting lad’s magazines to be a regular sex-ed manifesto, but it would be nice if just occasionally they could get something topical, erotic or even sexy into their sex coverage. What they treat their readers to is a steady diet of aspirational sex where real men don’t have problems and where women are always ready to perform with the right kind of coaxing. There’s nothing about managing any problems or concerns, nothing about how to say and get what you want, and nothing about how to listen to a partner’s needs either. Because in lad’s mags editors minds this is ‘boring’ – forget that it might be what their readers want and could lead to readers having a great sex life.

What we’ve seen today is the true colours of men’s media. In a scramble to maintain their laddish credentials they’ve revealed how little they understand sex reporting – and how little they value their readers.

As well as their job being about entertainment it’s also about making money. I don’t know whether advertisers would want to be associated with a magazine that’s endorsing unsafe sex for young men. Moreover, print media is in trouble and these magazines are fighting to stay afloat. The whole time they show contempt for their readers and an old school view of sex coverage the whole time their readers will go elsewhere for the information they need.

These editors just don’t get sex. They think to make it interesting it all has to be about performance, products and risk. Rather than it being about finding out what you like, learning what a partner likes and enjoying a sexual experience together – with the option to ask for help when things don’t work out.

Ofsted started this by stuffing up a report and naively believing because men’s magazines happened to exist they were a source of information for lads. We all knew that was a load of nonsense but I don’t think any of us expected that it would be lad’s mags themselves who came out and admitted what we knew – that Ofsted were wrong – and that men’s magazines take pride in not giving good sex information to young men.

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