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How to incite a moral panic about sex

By Jennifer Wilson - posted Monday, 5 September 2011

Science Daily (Aug. 10, 2011) - Marked Rise in Intensely Sexualized Images of Women…

A study by University of Buffalo sociologists has found that the portrayal of women in the popular media over the last several decades has become increasingly sexualized, even "pornified."

The article goes on to claim "sexualized imagery [of women] has increased by 89% from the 1960s to the present." Women are portrayed as "ready and available for sex" in allegedly pornified and hyper-sexualized images found in the popular media.

The researchers have even created a "scale of sexualization" for people who need guidance:


In order to measure the intensity of sexualized representations men and women, the authors developed a "scale of sexualization." An image was given "points" for being sexualized if, for example, the subject's lips were parted or his/her tongue was showing, the subject was only partially clad or naked, or the text describing the subject used explicitly sexual language.

Based on this scale, the authors identified three categories of images: a) those that were, for the most part, not sexualized (i.e., scoring 0-4 points on the scale), b) those that were sexualized (5-10 points), and c) those that were so intensely sexualized that the authors labeled them "hypersexualized" (11-23 points).

The popular media? Really?

The term 'the popular media" is used in the first paragraph of every report on this research I've found so far on the Internet, usually followed by: University of Buffalo researchers said previous research has found sexualized images of women to have far-reaching negative consequences for both men and women.

What the media reports fail to initially mention is that this study was based on one magazine, not far more broadly as is claimed by the use of the phrase "the popular media." That magazine is Rolling Stone. I don't know if Rolling Stone can be considered to be "popular media" strictly speaking, and I'd like to know how the researchers define that category.

An example of the Rolling Stone covers can be seen on this Australian website, where the headline reads: "New study shows massive increase in intensely sexualized female images," followed by "A decisive narrowing of media representations of women."

What is the definition of sexualized?


According to the American Psychological Association's definition (I don't trust them about much, but they're helping write the book on this so they're a primary source) "sexualizing" women means denying acknowledgement of anything other than our sexuality, according us value only because of our sexual appeal to the exclusion of all our other characteristics, constructing us as "things" for sexual use rather than seeing us as people with the capacity for independent action, and inappropriately imposing sexuality upon us.

Good luck doing any or all of that to the women on the cover of Rolling Stone.

The so-called "hyper-sexualized" women used in the study, allegedly presenting themselves as "things" incapable of independent action, valuable only for someone else's sexual pleasure, are women who are world famous for their accomplishments in their chosen careers. Actor Jennifer Aniston, model Megan Fox, and singer Janet Jackson are three examples. They're highly professional and apparently very much in control of their successful lives. Quite how they are "sexualized" by appearing on the magazine covers is a mystery.

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About the Author

Dr Jennifer Wilson worked with adult survivors of child abuse for 20 years. On leaving clinical practice she returned to academia, where she taught critical theory and creative writing, and pursued her interest in human rights, popular cultural representations of death and dying, and forgiveness. Dr Wilson has presented papers on human rights and other issues at Oxford, Barcelona, and East London Universities, as well as at several international human rights conferences. Her academic work has been published in national and international journals. Her fiction has also appeared in several anthologies. She is currently working on a secular exploration of forgiveness, and a collection of essays. She blogs at

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