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Sex In Society Essay, Research Paper

Sex in Society

Sex plays a major role in today’s society. From television, radio, music, and advertisements, to video games, the Internet, and even art and pictures, all forms of media use sex to help sell their products. With the public being exposed to so many different types, the overuse and exploitation of sex is common. Is sex a useful tool, or a ploy to get the attention of the public?

Before discussing sex in the media, one must understand why it has come to be that people use sex as a gimmick. “The writing of modern history has resulted in a viewpoint that is nothing short of a stag party. The history of women is ignored, hushed up, and censored in the most literal sense of the term. This method of eliminating the social and political destiny of half of humanity is the most effective form of supremacy.” (Janssen-Jurreit, 1982, pp. 15-16) The world we live in today is still man-made, no less now then in the nineteenth century. Eve Zaremba states in Privilege of Sex: “Women’s self-awareness as females has until very recently reflected the world’s (i.e. men’s) image of them; how well their personal performance matched male expectations.” As English Canadians began to develop an identity in 19th century society, they mirrored the “ideals” for women of the Victorian period: gentility, weakness, ignorance and submissiveness. (Zaremba, 1974, p. i ) These individual roles, as described by Oneill and Leone in Male/Female Roles: Opposing Viewpoints as the relationship of a man or woman to society on the basis of gender, became essential in shaping male and female attitudes towards one another. Over the past twenty years remarkable changes in these traditional male and female roles have been witnessed. The subsequent impact on men, women, and families due to these changes is believed to be, by many social historians, caused by the re-emergence of the women’s movement. (p.13) Though a positive alteration of roles has occurred, how is it that children of this century still may obey stereotypes?

“A baby is born knowing nothing, but full of potential.” (p.19) Oneill and Leone believe that the process by which an individual becomes a creature of society, a socialized human being, reflects culturally defined roles and norms. The first crucial question asked by the parents of a newborn baby is “What is it? A boy or a girl?” (p.25) Other queries about attributes of health and physical conditions are only brought up afterwards, the first priority is to establish its sex. ” Indeed, almost immediately, gender identity is permanently stamped on the child by the name it is given.” (p.26) Recent research has established beyond a doubt that males and females are born with a different set of “instructions” built into their genetic code. Studies at Harvard University and elsewhere show that marked differences between male and female baby behaviour are already obvious in the first months of life. Females are more oriented towards people. Male infants, on the other hand, are more interested in “things.” Stanford psychologists Karl Pribram and Dianne McGuinness conclude that women are “communicative” animals while men are “manipulative” animals. Some people believe this is hereditary, while others think that if boys and girls were brought up in exactly the same way then all behavioral differences between men and women would evaporate. (p.26)

Beginning in early adolescence, children develop their own ideas of male and female roles with the perception of the conduct and activities of his or her parents and other adults in their world, including characters on television. Young people are exposed to advertising from a very early age. The effect, says the Ontario Ministry of Education, especially of advertising on television, “has a significant bearing on girls’ and boys’ behaviour, and their aspirations. To most children the commercial message is another piece of information received from the television set. It is often difficult for them to distinguish truth from fiction, particularly when the fiction is packaged in compelling words, striking images, and catchy music.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 1975, pp. 5-7) An overwhelming amount of the visualizations that young kids see are the stereotypical images of women and girls. “This almost makes it seem legitimized, states Hon. David Macdonald, as it is reinforced and perpetuated by the mass dissemination of these images in broadcasting. (Macdonald, 1979, p. 3)

Children know in their minds that women, like men, come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and colours, but they do not see this represented in the broadcast media. The increasing diversity of women’s lives is also omitted in most broadcasting. For example, commercials and programming most often portray women as mothers performing domestic tasks, as economically dependent homemakers, or as sexual lures for products or decorative objects. “Such images constitute a limiting or narrowing of women’s, men’s, and children’s perceptions of themselves and their roles in society.” (pp.4-5) Sheila Copps made public her comments that “sexist and racist stereotypes were prominent in advertising.” (Curtis, 1996, p. 6) A member of the Canadian Advertising Foundation (CAF), Patrick McDougall, fired back by saying Copps had no clue what the CAF does and adds that Canadian advertising has immensely cleaned up its act and that there is very little if any sexist advertising being broadcasted. (p.6) The overall content of television nowadays has changed dramatically from that of the past. Today characters deal more and more with important issues such as teen pregnancy, stds, spousal abuse, and birth control. (Impoco, 1996, p. 58) Five to ten years ago, this subject matter was unheard of for use in programming content, as TV families tended to be occupied with trivial things such as outrageous clothing and hairstyles. Although Canadians have improved their broadcasting standards, not everyone is completely following their trend. In an intensive study done on American programming, it was found that a sexual act or reference occurred every four minutes on average during prime time. (p.59)

“Sex Sells,” the old adage goes. (Menzies, 1996, p. 9) Sexiness, as a component of the good life, is a staple for advertisers – Coca-Cola decorated its drug-store posters at the turn of the century with coquettish young women who male drinkers wished to date and female drinkers to emulate. (Carter, 1996, p. 53) Finnish yogurt makers ran an ad with hot, young, well-built Finnish boys holding containers of yogurt, with the slogan “Less fat, more taste…. Eat it.” This aroused a scandal and nationwide debate. A formal pole was conducted on these ads and some interesting statistics were produced. Two-thirds of respondents were male, and two-thirds thought the ad was sexist. There was a sharp contrast in the female contingent, as the vast majority of whom thought the ads were sexy and quite acceptable (Holland, 1996, p.31) These stats just prove that when the shoe is on the other foot, women view ads much in the same way that men do, and men are offended at seeing themselves portrayed as objects.

Nowadays everyone seems so sensitive about anything brought up in the media. “Even when it comes to the etiquette of using sex appeal in advertising, it seems that there is a wrong way (exploit women) and a right way (exploit men). The pendulum has swung the other way now. If one is to gaze upon an exposed chest in an ad these days, chances are it belongs to a man. Male models have emerged as the politically correct “babes” of the 90’s. Yet, pray tell, where is the massive public outcry?” (Menzies, 1996, p. 9) Mediawatch, an organization that “monitors” the depiction of women and girls in the media, admits that you certainly see more naked male flesh today, than you did three years ago. They contend that the effects of objectification on men and women aren’t equal because “men and women aren’t equal to begin with.” Author of this column, David Menzies writes “Hmmm, I still dunno. Isn’t a double standard, by any other name, still a double standard?” (p.9)

There is another more serious problem then offending the genders, with sex in the media today.. “Advertising images featuring young models in suggestive poses are sending out sinister messages to pedophiles,” according to one of Australia’s leading forensic psychiatrists, William Glaser. He argues that some advertising messages are giving pedophiles subconscious approval to commit crime. “It’s a very subtle thing, but a young girl posing suggestively in a revealing bikini can send out the wrong message,” Glaser says. He adds “I don’t blame the advertising industry, but feels it fuels the fire when it comes to pedophilia.” (Johnson) Also, the attractiveness of sexual aggression as crime news, and therefore as prime news, has been recognized by many newspapers lately. “While comfortably hidden under the cloak of objective crime reporting, sexual violence can be endlessly exploited for its titillating value, its crypto – pornographic quality and its sexist slant.” (Johnson, 1997, p.324) As rape and sexual assault became a more serious social problem in the 80’s, this prime news story has helped many papers to sell more copies in the competitive news market, while creating an impression of responsive and responsible reporting. “Newspapers are adept in sensing issues that arouse general interest and they then subtly alter the terms of the debate to achieve the end result of selling newspapers and making a profit,” alleged authors Maria Los and Sharon Chamond. “There is a thin line when it comes to educating the public on a problem, or exploiting it for it’s shock value.” (Los and Chamond, 1997, p.293) Although this is a horrible exploitation, there is yet another form of media that rivals this problem.

The Internet is the worst for having excessive sex in the media, as it is not regulated. All of the other forms of broadcasting have some sort of committee or association that analyzes and approves all ads and shows before they are released to the public. With the Internet, there currently are no real ways of suppressing the content. There are programs such as Net Nanny that will not open sites containing certain material, but what’s stopping a kid from going over to a friend’s house or to school and going to the Playboy site? With it’s vast geographical span, the Internet has the most numerous amounts of possibilities for media purposes, due to it’s ability to reach anyone that can access a modem. Problems such as pornography and hackers generate a fear in a lot of people and scare them from using one of the greatest information resources of our world.

We’ve all seen and heard how sex is used in today’s media. With all of these problems and outcries being raised about it, some may as why is it used at all? Well sex is a part of life, everyone’s life. It is a common ground to all people. Everyone will experience it or will be or have been affected by it. Producers, advertisers, writers and musicians must believe that if they include it in what they’re trying to sell to the public, people will somehow relate to it, and be drawn in by it. A lot of times, writers and critics just go overboard and over analyze things that may not be as terrible as they make them out to be. Sex in advertising can be a useful and educational tool, when employed properly, but if people in the media offend just as much of society as they win over, by producing worthless, excessive overloads of eye candy, then the use of sex is wasted.


Carter, Micheal. (1996 July). Hard Sell. Economist 340 no 7976, p.53

Curtis, Sara. (1996 September). Marketers, broadcasters reject Copps’ sexism jibe. Marketing 101 no 33, p.6.

Goffman, Erving. (1974). Gender Advertisements. Boston: University Press.

Holland, Daniel, (1996 April). Hot Finnish yogurt boys touch off advertising sexism debate. Marketing 101 no 20, p.31.

Impoco, Jim. (1996 April). Tv’s frisky family values. U.S. News & World Report 120 no 15, p. 58-62.

Janssen-Jurreit, Marie Louise. (1982). Sexism: The Male Monopoly on History & Thought. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux

Johnson, Robert. (1997). Ads accused of fueling pedophilia fires. Canadian Journal of Criminology,39(3), 324.

Los, Maria, Chamond, Sharon E. (1997). Selling Newspapers or educating the public. Canadian Journal of Criminology, 39(3), 293.

Macdonald, Hon. David. (1979). Sex Stereotyping in the media: Images of Women. Quebec: Canadian Government Publishing Centre.

Menzies, David. (1996 September). Boys and Girls. Marketing 101 no 34, p.9-25

Oneill, M. Teresa, Leone, Bruno. (1983). Male/Female Roles: Opposing Viewpoints. St. Paul: Greenhaven Press.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (1975). Sex Role Stereotyping and Women’s Studies. Ottawa: Information Canada

Zaremba, Eve. (1974). Privilege of Sex. Toronto: Anansi.


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