A new study from University at Buffalo researchers, to be published in the September issue of Sexuality & Culture, tends to confirm that, over the last few decades, the popular-media portrayal of women has become increasingly sexualized, which seems to be self-evident, unless, of course, you're residing in an Amish community. (In which case, you're not reading this either.)

The study used Rolling Stone covers from 1967 to 2009 as fodder with which to measure changes in media representations of men and women. One could say, of course, that Jann Wenner is simply a sellout, while another might say Rolling Stone accurately reflects the zeitgeist. Either way, researcher Erin Hutton, a sociology professor, said they chose Rolling Stone "because it is a well-established, pop-culture media outlet" that "offers a useful window into how women and men are portrayed generally in popular culture."

The study authors devised a "scale of sexualization" to measure degrees of sexualization. Points were awarded based on how intensely sexualized a given image was. For instance, parted lips, exposed tongues, partial or full nudity, and sexually explicit language could all justify receiving points. Images were identified according to three categories: not sexualized, sexualized, and "hypersexualized."

Comparing Rolling Stone covers by decade, reasearchers found that in the 1960s, eleven percent of men were sexualized compared to forty-four percent of women. And in the 2000s, seventeen percent of men were sexualized, compared to a whopping eighty-three percent of women. Among all the sexualized images, a mere two percent of men were hypersexualized, contrasted with a revealing sixty-one percent of women.

Summing it up, Hatton said: 

"In the 2000s, there were ten times more hypersexualized images of women than men, and eleven times more non-sexualized images of men than of women. What we conclude from this is that popular media outlets such as Rolling Stone are not depicting women as sexy musicians or actors; they are depicting women musicians and actors as ready and available for sex. This is problematic because it indicates a decisive narrowing of media representations of women."

Hatton adds, "Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys."

Commentarium (32 Comments)

Aug 17 11 - 12:47pm

It would be more interesting if this study took it a step further and said how much the hypersexualized issues sold compared to the sexualized and non-sexualized issues

Aug 17 11 - 12:55pm

Really? They had to conduct a survey for this?

Aug 17 11 - 3:48pm

Yes, they do. Because asserting theories without evidence is not okay. Just sayin'.

Aug 17 11 - 6:04pm

Because in the social "sciences", you can assert a theory and then confirm it with "evidence" based on your own subjective judgements. To think we spend all our time in the hard sciences actually using expensive measuring equipment and striving for repeatable results. More fool us!

Aug 17 11 - 1:00pm

Seems like this also trivializes women's role in society, and just at a time when formal and professional roles were opening and - because of the economy - closing again. Insidious, and it all appears intentional. Or is it just me?

Aug 17 11 - 1:58pm

Chock this one up too :"No fucking duh. Tell me something I don't know. Why the fuck was this even a story in the first place?"

Aug 17 11 - 2:11pm

So that next time someone says 'Duh, it was ever thus! Cave paintings had titties too, so get over it ladies', there are verifiable facts to point to rather than merely hands to wring.

Aug 17 11 - 2:23pm

Holy shit! I could have told you this without having to spend millions of taxpayer Dollars on this study! Rather spend the money to build Universities in Somalia.

Aug 17 11 - 4:00pm


Aug 17 11 - 7:33pm

somalia? universities? ummm..... why not spend money on domestic universities...i'm pretty sure my university's poor as fuck as it is.

Aug 17 11 - 7:34pm

They weren't tax payers' dollars, you alarmist goof. It's a university study.

Aug 22 11 - 1:29pm

UB is a SUNY school, so public, thus tax payers' dollars.

Sep 09 11 - 12:53pm

hipublic mail me

Aug 17 11 - 2:41pm

Sexualized and "pornified" are not at all the same thing. Pornography has its own conventions, and equating the image of a woman in a state of sexual arousal and availability (even if feigned) with porn is reductive at best. "Pornified" is a very loaded word.

Also, it's not a huge secret that men are more interested in sexualized images of women than vice versa. This isn't a conspiracy: “If they say 'why, why?', tell 'em that it's human nature...”

Finally: "Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys." First of all, {{citation needed}}, not to mention peer review; second, perhaps this is reversing cause and effect? Maybe societies full of repression and hostility between the sexes turn to sexualized portrayals for a fantasy outlet...whereas societies where people are fucking like bunnies, freely and guiltlessly, have less reason to imbibe mass media fantasies.

Aug 17 11 - 11:29pm

I agree with the first couple of things you said, but about the cause and effect reversal - not quite sure that I buy that. As hostile as gender differences can get in the States, they are nothing near the glaring differences and inequalities that you find in, say, Iran. The United States is also a pretty "free/guiltless" society in comparison to most.

But I'd like to see a similar study on European media. I've seen titties in Italian TV ads before, so...there's that?

Aug 18 11 - 3:31am

"As hostile as gender differences can get in the States, they are nothing near the glaring differences and inequalities that you find in, say, Iran." OK, but I'm not sure what your point is: sexual violence and harassment are absolutely endemic in many (most?) repressive countries, including Muslim countries where sexualized images are strictly forbidden officially, but voraciously consumed in secret. Hell, even bin Laden had a huge porn stash.

And yeah, I was mainly thinking of Europe -- though more northern Europe, e.g. Scandinavia. Basically, I think AIDS set the United States back 30-40 years in terms of gender relations and sexual fulfillment, because it reaffirmed the old vision of sex as a dangerous, shameful, and scarce commodity whose exchange should be conducted in terms of power and guilt, rather than love and generosity.

Aug 17 11 - 2:51pm
Voy Err

Media representations of women have not become more pornified. What's changed is that pornified representations of women, which have always existed, have become more widely available.

Aug 17 11 - 4:28pm

Both statements can exist independently, though. Media representation of women has become increasingly sexualized, as well as sexualized imagery of women has become more ubiquitous. They go hand in hand, rather than one or the other.

Aug 17 11 - 3:36pm

Concurrent with this period of time, magazine sales have declined.

Everyone's visual language and exposure to human flesh has also expanded due to that thing called the internet, therefore, these print images have less emotional wallop than, say if an image from 2009 was released in 1991. Our filters are different.

This study tends to treat all images as if they are equal, rather than in perspective to the time and visual language of the time they were released.

I'm not an academic, so I can't put this into their language. But, I hope my point gets across. This study is flawed.

Aug 17 11 - 5:13pm

You seem to be making that point that its all relative to the time, which is completely valid. However, when paired with evidence that certain types of images (more hypersexualized ones) encourage more violent attitudes and behavior toward women and girls, images from 1991 and 2009 are clearly not equal, because they theoretically communicate different messages about women, which in turn encourages different attitudes and behaviors. If you're saying our filters are different throughout time, surely our beliefs about women are subject to change as well, sometimes for the worse.

Aug 17 11 - 9:21pm

@J, while I agree that evolution is not linear, sometimes we take giant steps backwards, overall, there is some improvement in 'beliefs about women." But, that might compare 1800 to 2010, not 1972 to 2010 (1972 was more progressive in about a billion respects; the Palin's and Bachmann's are setting women back -- but, eventually, evolution will win out).

Evidence about media imagery, porn specifically, and crime is a tough one. For every study that says one thing, another says another. Why is Utah the state with the highest level of porn consumption and one of the lowest in terms of violent crime? Maybe that's just particularly Mormon?

Aug 17 11 - 4:29pm

It's hard to argue with their point, I mean we all know this is happening. What was once risque years ago would now seem tame. And I'm a male and no feminist. I have nothing against pornography either. But making 80% of the women on your covers "sexy" clearly puts them all in one box, one stereotype, instead of a variety of styles and roles. It's increasing limitation and homogenization of female "types" in the culture. Shame on RS for not being progressive and forward thinking about this, but rather regressive and narrowminded. I guess the dying print publication industry goes for the cheap buck when their readership loses interest to online publications.

Aug 17 11 - 5:30pm
HipHop Hippo

Your opinions are more feminist than you think. It's good. :)

Aug 17 11 - 5:07pm

I remember in the 90's when MacUser magazine was criticized for "featuring" bosoms of the cover. Photo in question: a woman in a evening dress holding a trophy (the real focus of the image) in front of her clothed chest. Now I bet people wouldn't bat an eye at that, even though since then Mac magazines have tended to not show people on the cover.

Aug 17 11 - 6:11pm

Chicks are hot!

Sep 09 11 - 12:54pm


Aug 18 11 - 2:38am

cry me a river...guys these days are sexualized on ONE DAMN BODY PART! Oh yeah and by women! Plenty of evidence of this.Also look at the inuendo with fruit/hot dogs to male genitals...so bwahhhhha Women should be glad most guys love women of all shapes,sizes and looks and don't just chase bikini models.

Sep 09 11 - 12:54pm

sambasiva511 mail me

Aug 19 11 - 3:09pm

Those girls are just sharing an iced-cream cone. Why does everyone have to go all Ziggy Freud on pictorials? If there was a photo for every time I had 2 corndogs in my mouth at the same time with my eyes closed...

Aug 21 11 - 11:16am

Quit whining and spread your cheeks.

Aug 21 11 - 4:56pm

"Hatton adds, "Sexualized portrayals of women have been found to legitimize or exacerbate violence against women and girls, as well as sexual harassment and anti-women attitudes among men and boys." "

No shite. Those of you making excuses to the contrary should remember that you all had a MOTHER if not a sister, girlfriend, or wife. There's a direct connection between this and stories like the ridiculous company recently in the news (that I won't even name) marketing LINGERIE for 4 year olds. What's next, G strings for infants??!!?!?

Aug 22 11 - 12:05pm

G strings for female infants only.