Sex Roles, Vol. 52, Nos. 1/2, January 2005 (
Images of Women’s Sexuality in Advertisements:
A Content Analysis of Black- and White-Oriented
Women’s and Men’s Magazines
Christina N. Baker
This article represents an analysis of the sexual images of women in magazine advertise-
ments. I examined advertisements in Black- and White-oriented, men’s and women’s mag-
azines to compare the images of women’s sexuality that are constructed for each speciﬁc
audience. Over 600 images of women were analyzed based on seven dimensions, including
function/role, relative function/authority, physical/body position, relative size/height, char-
acter traits, body view, and physical characteristics. The images of women’s sexuality vary
depending on the race of the intended audience and the race of the women in the advertise-
ments. Advertisements for White audiences portray women in roles and with characteristics
that suggest dependency and submissiveness, whereas advertisements for Black audiences
portray women as independent and dominant. I also found that White women are objectiﬁed
much more than Black women are.
KEY WORDS: advertisements; gender roles; racial images; sexuality.
The average person in the United States is
exposed to over 3,000 advertisements per day
(Kilbourne & Jhally, 2000); these permeate our so-
ciety through such media as television, magazines,
billboards, and internet banners. The fact that adver-
tisements are so pervasive suggests that they have a
signiﬁcant impact on society.
The media play a large part in the socialization
process, perhaps especially socialization into gender
roles (Goffman, 1979; Lindsey, 1997; MacKinnon,
1989; Strinati, 1995). The media both reﬂect and re-
inforce traditional gender roles. Most people real-
ize that the images in the media do not always, in
fact rarely, reﬂect reality. However, that does not
mean that these images are not inﬂuential. Adver-
tisements often represent a type of fantasy, or ideal,
image of the way that things should be (Gornick,
1979). Speciﬁcally, they help to reinforce how the
ideal woman should look and behave. According to
many advertisements, the ideal woman is an object
that exists to satisfy men’s sexual desires.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of
Sociology, University of California, 3151 Social Sciences Plaza,
Irvine, California 92697-5100; e-mail: email@example.com.
Previous researchers have analyzed the images
of women in magazine advertisements, and con-
cluded that women are portrayed as sex objects
(Archer, Iritani, Kimes, & Barrios, 1983; Courtney
& Whipple, 1983; Goffman, 1979; Kang, 1997;
Kilbourne & Jhally, 2000; Krassas, Blauwkamp,
& Weaseling, 2001; Lueptow, Garovich-Szabo, &
Lueptow, 2001). It is important to study the por-
trayal of women’s sexuality because it has been
suggested that sexuality is the root cause of gen-
der inequality (e.g., MacKinnon, 1989). MacKinnon
(1989), for example, explained that “sexuality (is)
the dynamic of the inequality of the sexes” (p. 130).
However, researchers have generally examined ad-
vertisements in mainstream women’s magazines or
mainstream gender-neutral magazines, where the
majority of the readers are White.
have been excluded from most analyses because,
The terms “mainstream” and “White-oriented” are used inter-
changeably throughout this article to refer to magazine types.
Mainstream magazines do not specify a target racial group.
However, a large majority of the women in the advertisements
and of the magazine audience are White. Therefore, I classify
mainstream magazines as White-oriented.
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.