Sex Sells — To Women?

hottest-all-time-swimsuit-cover-modelsSex sells, they say.

Last month’s Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition featured bikinied women and women whose nude bodies were painted to look like they were wearing bikinis. (Swimsuits are related to sports, get it?). The scantily clad ladies sell a lot of magazines.

Now SI wants to appeal to its female audience of 18 million. The ladies will get makeup tips. And after all the lovely swimsuit models, women readers may feel badly enough about themselves to want them – a common advertising trick.

But why no Beckham in the buff for us? We aren’t supposed to enjoy ogling sexy men? Instead, we are supposed to be sexy ourselves, so that men can enjoy ogling us?

But SI is hardly alone.

Cosmo, Glamour, Elle, et al., highlight sexy ladies, and at best, lowlight sexy men. In fact, Cosmo and Maxim look an awful lot alike.

But it’s not just magazines. Nearly nude women, but rarely men, draw our eyes to billboards peddling products. The camera hones in on women’s boobs and butts on TV and film. You don’t see much focus on men’s buns and chests.

Why are sexy women marketed to both men and women?

And why aren’t sexy men marketed to women?

Historically, men have controlled media and they put out what they find attractive. Then, flooded with pretty women, we all drink them in. They sink into our minds, and we unconsciously develop notions that that’s the way the world is and the only way things could be.

But the unsaid message is that women’s sexual needs aren’t primary. Men’s are. We are meant to be beautiful decorations for men. We are there to turn men on. Men need sexual pleasure, and we are the one’s to give it to them.

Not the reverse.

As a result, when men look at nearly-nude women, they love it. But when women look at nearly-nude men they can feel uncomfortable.

Shouldn’t women’s sexual pleasure be as important as men’s? And wouldn’t men and women both enjoy sex more if it were?

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on March 15, 2013, in feminism, gender, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 34 Comments.

  1. I recently discovered your blog! Very interesting! Congratulations!

    As far for this topic, it comes to my mind something i read about the Ancient Greece:
    Bisexual activities were normal among young Athenean men. So the Male body was highly admired while female body was looked upon down!
    That’s why Greek sculptures of naked men were well built and sexier! (Of course, I have not been able to corroborate this).

    So I think the only way men will start being objectified is if most men turn gay/bi. (Which is something i doubt women would want).

    • If I remember Greek hist, the men were nude and women more often clothed.

      You’d only need all men to be gay/bi if you live in patriarchy, where we see the world thru male eyes. In the west we are overcoming that, but largely still there.

      • I could not agree more with you on your theory that our society see the world thru STRAIGHT male eyes. Let me tell you my experience.

        As a gay male, i grew up watching tons of straight porn (because there is no gay porn on cable TV). I saw lots of FFM threesomes, and some MFM threesomes (where the men don’t even rub each other).
        The first time i watched bi porn (where men do have sex), i must admit it: it made me feel uncomfortable. I couldn’t see the whole thing.
        Of course, my favorite porn is GAY porn, but in the absence of it, i prefer straight porn to bi porn any day of the week (of course i only focuse on the men).
        As for watching two girls kissing, I actually see it as something natural, and must be due to all the lesbo scenes i had to see in straight porn.

        I could give you other examples. But this should suffice to prove not only girls but also gay men can be influenced by our patriarchy society. you think?

      • Makes sense to me. Though I’m confused on why you like straight over bi porn.

      • “Though I’m confused on why you like straight over bi porn.”

        Why are you confused on that?
        there are many straight women who like lesbian porn over straight porn.
        Why is it “normal” for straight women to like lesbian porn but it is “confusing” if a gay man likes straight porn?
        How is that different?

        another interesting thing is that DAVE called the porn where men are having sex as “bi porn” BUT he called the porn were women are having sex as “straight porn”.
        Why is that different?
        Men having sex is “bi porn” but women having sex is “straight porn”?
        Because of the media we all (men and women, straight or bi or gay) have internalize the notion that women being bisexual is the norm?

      • I am not sure about the context of my comment, But I’ll say this:

        You have a good point on “bi” versus “straight” porn. And looking at it one way what you say makes perfect sense. I suppose the terms were used as they were because they reflect who is looking out the porn.

        I guess it seems more normal for straight women to like lesbian porn because they are socialized to see women as the sex objects, Whereas straight men aren’t heavily socialized to get aroused by the male body.

  2. that really hacks me off, that men expect women to be sexy because i want to be seen as more than a silicon stepford barbie! i have aspirations, namely finishing my course so i can go to university so i could be a visual effects artist! if men want me to look a certain way just to fulfil their wet dream then they can stick it! i don’t expect my men to be rich and handsome (because he would probably be boring) so why should a man expect me to look like VS model?!

  3. Johnny Wilcox alias

    I think those magazines reflects what society think about women. But at same time female body can be loved by both men and women. If there’s only men’s bikini on the magazines, it feels weird.

  4. I think its funny they put women in women’s magazines because women dont wanna believe how to lose weight if the trainer is bigger then them. They dont want to take makeup advice from someone who wears no makeup, and they dont want to take relationship advice from single women…. but i find it funny if the girl was next to them in real life the jealousy comes out.. women are becoming just as critical about women as men. I was at work walking behind a couple and the girl was criticizing the girl in front of them to her boyfriend..

  5. Natthinee Sutjaitham

    I totally agree with this article. The media is a reflection of the way society feels. The truth is males are more attracted to the female body than females are to the male bodies. Thats way playboy sold millions & playgirl went broke, female strip joints for men make so much cash, and most women find male strippers a huge turn off. From the past to modern days, women are always victims, even when they are making huge amounts of money from their looks. The role of women as purely homemakers and sexual objects was so rooted in society less than a hundred years ago that the effects are still being seen.

  6. I have noticed that I find myself looking at those magazines and “checking” those women out and for a while I thought that I could be a lesbian because why else would I find those women attractive? But then I realized that that is the way advertising is. It should just be equal, meaning men should be treated the same

  7. Christopher Speer

    I feel like there is so much more artistic possibilities that can be achieved with the female body than with a male. But it also doesn’t help the fact that most of the commercials you see half naked men in are exercise commercials. I read into this article more of selling the image with the message as apposed to selling sex directly.

  8. Sex is selling magazines, but is it selling the right ideas? No. I want to understand why it is so easy for magazines and television to bombard society with messages that are stagnant and inefficient. Not only do women loose the ability to appreciate men’s bodies since they are not accustom to seeing them in the same way, they also loose the ability to feel comfortable in their own bodies. By selling sex appeal it is also sending the message to woman that they need to look like airbrushed models and that just is not fair. There are so many aspects that are affected on this chain that it is just not simple to understand why they really even exist.

  9. Sex sells because women have the wrong idea of beauty and man are visual so they like to see a sexy body known that it is fake. Society has been created around what beauty is on the outside and we as americans are competitive and superficial individuals. Having the means to buy products that “will makes us beautiful” supports this society habits. I can honestly think that many people now are aware of this picture tricks and that many of our young generation are disconnecting from this type of images. I see here in campus many young men and women who are very connected with their inner beauty.

  10. Rohan 7 Things

    Yup it’s really ridiculous. I would feel like crap if all I saw were hot, muscular guys everywhere, thinking that this is what I’m supposed to look like!

    Guys definitely have it easier in that regard, but ultimately, as you say, this kind of onesidedness has an adverse effect on both men and women of all persuasions!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂


  11. I completely agree with you. People often complain about how women are more jealous than men, and that they care for their looks etc. Truly speaking, it’s really not that surprising given how the society prepares women since an early age to fight with each other on shallow things like appearances and male attention. Also, one funny thing that I don’t know how many people have noticed, but with the rise in acceptance of homosexuality, men are sexualized more often than before. However, even so it is often done with other men (homesexual) people in mind.

    • Yes. Teach women to be obsessed with their looks because that’s what they’re judged by, and then punish them for it.

      And of course even as men are more sexualized, it still doesn’t compare to how much women are.

  12. The naked woman’s body is a portion of eternity too great for the eye of man

  13. “The female body is a work of art. The male body is utilitarian. It’s for gettin’ around. It’s like a Jeep.” – Elaine, in Seinfeld, “The Apology”

    • Good quote. Thanks.

      Since the male body is also very beautiful I think the problem is the way we “socially construct” our ideas of what beautiful is. We just don’t see many David Beckham’s.

  14. I would not mind having less not-so-sexy women out there on magazine covers. I get more of a in-my-face kind of feeling with the covers that are supposed to be sexy. The ones with David Beckham have been incredibly sexy. Why can’t they do more poses like that with women (and a lot more with Beckham and his ilk).

  15. Thanks for another thought provoking essay. Good job. Here are my thoughts: (feel free to edit excess length or excess rantiness):-)

    Am I the only woman who is embarrassed in the grocery store check out line by magazine covers with full-color breasts spilling out and teasers for articles on how to give oral sex and tips for a jolly threesome?

    What exactly are we selling here and to whom?

    I’m all for our constitutional right to free speech (As long as you don’t blow the whistle on military torture and concentration camps. Then you should be put in prison or executed). But where have my rights gone not to be assaulted by highly sexualized images when I’m buying food. Get a brown wrapper on those tits and porn topics!

    I can turn off the TV (I have). I can not buy mags. (I don’t). I can keep my boys at home (I do). I can block porn sites (I do).

    But there they are, young women with painted faces in hooker poses with their mouths hanging open and their tits falling out on the covers of magazines (for women??) when I’m buying necessities.

    I am glad to see that I am not the only one asking questions. This issue makes my head hurt, my stomach twist and my soul sick.


  16. This is reminding me of seeing a clip on FB from FOX snooze about International Women’s Day that was an assortment of boob shots. Did you see that? I was hopping mad, but considered the offensive and ignorant source and let it go…

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