Teen girls’ magazines use heavy dose of sex to sell
Rusty Benson
Rusty Benson
AFA Journal associate editor

Warning: In the interest of accuracy this article contains direct quotes from Sassy and Seventeen magazines. These quotes contain sexually explicit language.

October 1993  – It’s pure economics, according to the New York Times (1/18/93). The oldest baby boomers are nearing 50, the 18-34 year old market is declining, but the teenage population is increasing for the first time in 18 years (now at 27 million and projected to grow another 14% this decade). And they have money to spend–$95 billion annually according to Teenage Research Unlimited, a market research firm.

Advertisers and magazine publishers want their share–at any cost. And they know how to get it. Sex.

Sex sells. No doubt about it.

Sassy and Seventeen magazines, among others, are proof. With circulations of 682,000 and 1.9 million respectively, these slick monthly journals serve up a steady diet of politically correct, value-free, sexually-explicit editorial content combined with the latest and greatest teen products from blue jeans to birth control devices.

“Suddenly, marketers have seen that teens are more influential,” said Janice Grossman, publisher of Seventeen. “Teens are doing food shopping, preparing meals and getting more responsibility because their moms are working.”

Jay N. Cole, publisher of Teen magazine agrees. “They have significantly more money to spend than they had 10 years ago. The ad community is particularly interested because they want to establish brand awareness and brand loyalty in these young women so they can carry it on into adulthood.”

Four magazines dominate the teenage girl market–Seventeen, Sassy, YM, and Teen. This report focuses on Seventeen, the leader, and Sassy, easily the most provocative.

Seventeen began in 1944 and has changed hands several times. It is now published by KIII magazine corporation in New York. Although less offensive than Sassy, Seventeen, once a harmless teen-talk magazine, has become obviously more sex-oriented in recent years.

Some of Seventeen’s most sexually-frank content appears in a question and answer column called “sex & body.” In the September, 1993, issue, a reader writes: “My boyfriend and I were starting to have sex when we decided not to.” The girl goes on to describe how they had already begun intercourse, then asks,  “I was a virgin before this. Am I still?”

The answer included these comments: “The real issue isn’t whether your experience fits exactly with some technical definition. What really matters is how you feel about your sexuality and whether you think you’re ready to have sex. Choosing whether or not to have sex is a private decision between you and your boyfriend and is based on both of your values, feelings, and beliefs.”

This amoral advice advocating premarital sex pervades all discussions (and there are plenty) of sex in Seventeen.

Another reader writes about her mother being homosexual (August,1993). Part of Seventeen’s counsel is to read the book Different Mothers: Sons and Daughters of Lesbians Talk About Their Lives by Louise Rafkin and to subscribe to “Just for Us,” the kids’ newsletter of The Gay and Lesbian Parents Coalition International.

Questions about masturbation are answered in the April,1992, issue. Included is an explicit description of the female genitalia. Other subjects covered in the “sex & body” column include oral sex, rape, AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and genital warts.

The July, 1993, issue offers a quiz for readers to find their “passion quotient.” Questions include obvious encouragements to be more passionate in the areas of feminism, relationships and politics. For example: “You, the feminist, are listening to someone who says he thinks women shouldn’t work outside the home.” The reader is then given three responses from which to choose.

Another example: “You are actively involved in campaigning for a local Democratic candidate. Your best friend has just joined the Young Republicans Club. You (a) mutually agree never to discuss politics. (b) try to convince her of the error of her ways ‑ every time you’re together. (c) give her your candidate’s campaign literature and hope she’ll read it.

A news blurb in the December, 1991, issue informs readers that People for the American Way (a far-left political action group) reports that censorship in schools reached an all time high in 1990.

An outline of birth control methods is offered in the April, 1993, edition. Also included is an interview with Naomi Wolf, author of “Power Feminism: How to learn to love the women’s movement again.”

Seventeen applauds Marvel Comics in the May, 1992, issue for creating the first homosexual superhero.
Since its introduction in 1988, Sassy has come under fire for leading the field in brash, irreverent, sex-heavy, trash talk. The publication, a knock-off of a highly successful Australian teen magazine, speaks with “the voice of a friend,” according to one magazine consultant.

In 1988 pressure from conservative groups including the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women For America and others caused advertisers to back away from Sassy. Among those who discontinued their advertising were H.I.S., Neutrogena Skincare, Ogilvie Products, Reebok, Bonnie Bell, and Revlon.

Sassy felt the pinch and modified their content, at least long enough to woo advertisers back into the fold. However recent issues reveal that the change was short-lived.

A sampling of Sassy
In the November, 1992, issue the “Body Talk” column offered a “safer sex” mail order kit, which included four condoms, lubricant, dental dams (for oral sex), finger cots, latex gloves, spermicidal films and sanitary wipes–all for only $19.95.

Sassy offered the address of Planned Parenthood in the April, 1993, issue for readers wanting to know more about the Norplant birth control implant.

The same month Sassy published an article entitled, “Anatomy of a Creep,” warning of “over promiscuous, love-em and leave-em boys.” The advice concluded, “This is the real test. If he’s worth sleeping with, you will not only know him very well by the time you both decide you’re ready, but you can also be pretty sure that if he were just out for easy sex he wouldn’t invest months and months and months in a relationship.” Again, the “when-you-both-decide” advice pervades.

“Daddy, Can’t You Hear Me?” is a fictional piece from April, 1993. The story is subtitled  “Rachel, Demian, and Their Dysfunctional Families: A Love Story.” One descriptive passage relates details of Demien’s sexual exploration of Rachel’s body.

When Rachel and Demian meet one night, another passage details their French kissing and his trying to remove her clothing.

“Glossary” (May, 1993) keeps readers current on hip jargon additions: “Gadar ‑ The innate ability to tell at a glance if someone is gay. This is useful for both homosexuals and heterosexuals. It enables you to pinpoint whether an attractive morsel rides in your ranch or not.”

“What’s a girl to do?” Sassy asks (May, 1993), when she is fantasizing about making out with girls? The answer is simple: call the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual Youth Hotline at 1-800....

Hey, let’s be fair, one reader pleads (May, 1993). Show some support for teenage lesbians by running more gay romance stories.

The June, 1993, issue offers a feature story, “First (menstrual) periods around the world.”

Four pro-choice teens who demonstrated at the New York state capital were celebrated in a September, 1992, article.

“Dear Boy” is an advice column with a twist. Each month a different celebrity (read: rocker/rapper/teen idol) fields questions from unsuspecting readers. For example, J. Mascis, identified as “the guy from Dinosaur Jr” (?), answers the question, “Do boys like big bu--s?” Mascis is “baffled by this question,” and comments, “Any guy who’s not a weirdo will take as much bu-- as he can get.”

The September, 1993, issue touts a new product which enables females to “stand up and [urinate].” It is described as a “funnel-like devise invented by a man whose wife had to take a wicked p_ _ _ and was unable to use the unsanitary public toilets.”

This is just a sampling of what teen magazines are selling teenage girls.