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Women’s magazines – room for improvement

April 8th, 2005

Dr Petra

Women’s magazines adore sex features. Occasionally their coverage is good, but the majority of it still needs improving. Many of the topics covered are outdated, or misuse ideas around hormones, biology, and evolution. A large proportion of the ‘experts’ who inform features aren’t recognised by the wider sexological community.

In an interview with Press Gazette today, Glamour editor Jo Elvin criticises Cosmopolitan for its sex coverage, stating: “the way Cosmo does sex has always been for somebody for whom sex is quite new, it’s always ‘Oh God, this magazine’s rude’. I think readers look to Glamour because they’re slightly more sophisticated”

True, Cosmo’s sex coverage has received criticism over the years – mainly because of the standard of sex advice given and the qualifications of those offering advice.

To that end, Cosmo isn’t that different from most other women’s (or men’s) magazines. High-level sex coverage that favours technique over communication and confidence skills, and combines both the saucy and the coy.

But Glamour isn’t without fault. Many people working in sex research and therapy are concerned the magazine’s resident ‘sex expert’ is not the best person for the job, and certainly not the most qualified. As with other magazines, the sex coverage in Glamour isn’t always accurate.

And as with other magazines, Glamour is no stranger to assuming it knows better than the sex experts it consults. Most recently sex researchers were disgusted by Glamour’s misuse of sex research to sell copies. Using the Kinsey movie as a hook, rather than using the existing, respected Kinsey scale of sexuality, Glamour decided to write its own ‘sexuality’ test.

This treated the reader to a test with muddled scoring and questions, and rather than asking people to rate their sexuality, ‘tested’ them with questions such as:
‘Do you have a large circle of gay friends?’
‘How often do you go to gay bars?’
‘If you found yourself on a desert island and your only companion was a beautiful woman, what do you imagine might happen intimately between you?’

The Glamour sexuality test told the reader nothing helpful about their sexuality, nor offered much support for anyone wanting to know more about being gay or bi. As worryingly, in the face of a useful, standardised and reputable measure, and after being told by several sex researchers to use this measure, Glamour felt they were more knowledgeable and experienced, and chose to overlook the Kinsey sexuality scale.

All magazines need to change, Glamour included. When it comes to sex, the answer is the same. None of you are perfect. You can all do better.

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