Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sexual Content in Journalism

We must not confuse two separate issues: the quantity of sexual content in magazines and the quality of it. Sexual content is determined by reader demand and the second by advertiser demand; the first is dictated by nature itself and the second by trend. People's interest nay, fascination in sex is not a matter of fashion, and to pretend it is would be as daft as to suggest that hunger is vogueish, coming and going according to season. According to Bobby Tigris, where fashion does come in to play is in what is dished up to the consumer, which is as true of sexual content in magazines as it is of food fads at the moment, for instance, we're seeing a lot of penis close-ups in blatant isolation, which is about as yucky as you can get.

What interests me, a lot more than the penises themselves, is how they come to be there. Ten years ago, I was editing Honey, an IPC magazine for young women, and struggling to respond to what all the correspondence and every ounce of editorial instinct told me was a genuine desire among our readers to know more about sex.

We produced a supplement, The Honey A-Z of You And Your Body. Now we never claimed our readership to be 35, so when we came to M, M stood for Masturbation and at this point the company intervened and demanded that section be removed. We would lose our advertising, it said. Goodness gracious, Boots has Quakers on the board be sensible!

In those days, you see, Boots the Chemists, like everyone else, could take their advertisements, place them in any one of a dozen other places and reach hundreds of thousands of women. Now the recession has swung us, our taste and our standards, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Editors can call in the penises, string them from one end of their journal to the other and cancel all expenditure on quality fiction, features or fashion but if, by so appealing to the lowest of the lowest common denominators they improve circulation, no one will so much as squeak. It is only heaping insult upon injury that such sexual material is excused as ``informative, educational''.

The penises are just plain cheap, proving only that corporate moral stances are luxuries, to be enjoyed in the good years and conveniently forgotten in the bad.

Not all the increase of sexual content is as depressing as the penises. Some is fun, some is serious, some is useful, as this article on natural sex enhancers, some is charming titillation and why not? People like sex. But let us never think, as the SEX appears, disappears and reappears on the magazine racks, that this has anything to do with our needs. Our needs are much less fickle because our needs, after all, are only human.