Saturday, November 19, 2005

Sexual Healing

A while back I asked you for suggestions of magazines that might have sexual dysfunction advertisements hidden in their pages. You all pointed me in the right direction, and I've spent the majority of the past two weeks (when I'm not in class or teaching) sitting in the free library going through microfilm of a dozen magazines for the year 2004 and photocopying each advertisement for a product that claims to enhance sex. My sample of magazines is stratified to look at gender and racial differences, but was hand selected to include only those magazines that focus on health, sex and relationships in some section of their publication. All of these ads are my data set for a paper I'm writing this semseter (and hopefully presenting on at the Eastern's in Boston!) entitled, "Sexual Healing".

This is the best title for any paper I've ever written. Thank you, Marvin Gaye.

Most of the ads are so explicit, even I was unprepared. I'm specifically using Erving Goffman's categories to examine the images, but adding in some categories of my own, such as who is the voice who is telling us we're dysfunctional and that we need help, as well as some categories that will help me put an analytical focus on the wording/text of the advertisement. Here is an example:

Clearly the woman is the gaze object since she is the only one with a face, (and geez, look at that face, she must be in ecstasy) she's using her feminine touch lightly on his chest, he's expressing dominance by more fully holding her in place with his hand on her hip. Some of the more subtle things to look for are their clearly displayed wedding bands ( I suppose we're to assume they're married to each other). This ad is unique from many of the others in that it suggests that the sex you're having isn't horrible, but it could be improved. Most other ads focus on some sort of medical glitch that requires a simple and quick fix, such as a little blue pill, when it comes to male dysfunction, but for women it's more complicated. Ads for products that target women focus not on a medical problem, but on a social problem, the inability to get sufficiently aroused by your partner. This is perhaps the most interesting finding of my whole study, women are constantly labeled as passive and merely responsive to male sexual interest, not really having any of their own. This is the "dysfunction" of female sexuality. But ladies, for real, we know this isn't true! Yet, we're bombarded with these images and stereotypes about our sexuality on a daily basis.

Great lovers are made, but I think through subtle, okay maybe not so subtle, messages like the ones pictured above, women are told to create their own inferiority to men. We can't be on equal footing with them anywhere, even in the bedroom!


  1. Elizabeth Anne said...
    It is the subtleties that seem to teach us as a people what our roles are as women and men. Metrosexual and Manny are, of course, relating to men's sexuality or position in society. I think back to that film "Mona Lisa Smile" with Julia Roberts. That scene when she shows a series of slides of adverts, showing women only as wives and mothers, always in the household arena. And it's hard to understand that by simply changing up the language and positioning of the models, that women of our generation buy into the marketing plan of commercial sex.

    Or something like that...
    Nat said...
    Man, Jon and I must really be perfect for eachother, because I don't feel inferior at all.
    E said...
    That's cute Nat, but you two aren't above normative sexuality. This is not to say that you and Jon aren't perfect for each other, but you are conforming to the dominant heterosexuality, aren't you? Yes.
    Anonymous said...
    I love you e and let me tell you why. I would look at that ad and you know I'd be like "that's one hot bitch!" I know, I know, I'm such a misogynist, but it's true. You on the other hand look at it and see just what it is they're saying in that picture, however subtle it may be. You are able to point out what it is most people can't see.
    Essentially I'm saying, yeah, I'm a typical male and you'll bust my balls about it, but you don't hate me for it either plus, you're smart... who doesn't love that?


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