Sex Sells

By Jason Collum, AFAJ staff writer

August 2003 – Seventy percent of American teens get information about sex from the media, a recently released study shows. While that might not be surprising, it is troubling, considering what kind of message teens are getting.

"I’m not saying girls should run out and get it over with," 19-year-old "Marisa" says in a quote in Seventeen magazine’s July 2003 edition, "but when you’re ready, there’s nothing wrong with sex. I was ready. I really cared about the guy I was with, and I’m glad I did it, because it’s just one more thing I can enjoy about life and my relationships, and there’s nothing bad or wrong or regrettable about that."

That is the message readers of some teen magazines are getting about sex. Considering many readers of teen magazines are younger teens, the message of "just use a condom and have fun" can have very dangerous implications, especially for young, impressionable minds.

"We know [teens] are being bombarded with images of sex and sexuality as well as information about sexual health," Julia Davis, senior program officer for the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Fox News. "Some of these images are problematic – absolutely."

A review by AFA of two of the most popular teen magazines – Seventeen and CosmoGirl – plus three other randomly selected teen-aimed titles gave reason to agree with Davis. Of all of the discussions of sex in the magazines, AFA Journal found no suggestions that teens should talk to or even approach their parents about sex. There was only one reference to saving sex for marriage, and one magazine took the opportunity to discuss oral sex and the use of condoms. And two of them, as detailed in letters to the editor, had taken the opportunity in previous editions to promote the homosexual lifestyle.

Parents not familiar with the magazines their teens are reading might want to consider what AFA Journal found.

Displayed boldly on the front of the July Seventeen was the blurb, "17’s Exclusive Sex Survey Results; Find out what your friends aren’t telling you." Open to pages 62 and 63, and readers are peppered with a lot of statistics about sex: how many teens have had oral sex, how many teens practice "pulling out" for birth control, and an editor’s note directing teens to and for more information on sex. is Planned Parenthood’s Web site for teens. is, as described in Seventeen, "Columbia University’s no-holds-barred Q&A site [that] answers all kinds of sexual health questions."

Of the ten quotes from other teens splashed across both pages, only one addresses saving sex for marriage. In addition to the quote from Marisa, the others all speak about either using condoms, experimenting with everything except actual intercourse, and having sex when a teen feels she is ready.

Page 102 of this same edition includes a candid photo of a popular actor holding a bottle of water suggestively below waist level, and includes comments about what could be going on in the photograph, complete with crude remarks.

The sister publication of adult magazine Cosmopolitan, CosmoGirl includes in its June/July 2003 edition an article with what it states are true love stories. Included in this is a discussion of how two lesbians discovered each other and began dating. Also in this article is a picture of a teenage girl and boy, apparently jumping. The girl is dressed in a knee-level denim skirt with only a bra or bikini top on above.

Flip back two pages to page 80, and readers are treated to a picture of two young people at a beach, backs to camera, kissing. The caption with the photograph, supposedly from the girl, says, "If I turn my head just a little bit more, I think I can see his [rear end]."

The cover story on page 53 includes a headline on the interview with actor Paul Walker that says, "We got him to strip down and bare everything … about himself, naughty girl!"

CosmoGirl takes at least two more chances to promote homosexuality in this edition. A calendar of things to do touts Georgia’s Gay Pride Festival, while page 42 features brief tales from readers revealing their "secrets." One of the very explicitly told secrets is of how two teenage girls experimented with each other sexually.

In its "Speak Up" letters section, CosmoGirl includes a letter from an 18-year-old Canadian reader bashing another letter writer for writing to complain about the magazine’s picture of two girls kissing. Also, a previous edition’s feature on a woman’s "female-to-male transition" generated two letters blasting the magazine for running the story, and, according to one letter, for graphically detailing the transgendered person’s genitalia and how she now has sex.

While primarily a fashion magazine, TeenVogue takes plenty of opportunities to splash pictures of shirtless boys throughout its pages. In its reader feedback section, TeenVogue includes two letters praising the magazine for a story in a previous edition on the plight of a teenage lesbian. 

Other than the mix of "do-you-have-a-crush" and "how-to-know-it’s-love" questionnaires, AFA Journal did not find Teen magazine’s Summer 2003 edition to be offensive or overtly sexual. Teen did include a section called "Pinup Hotties," but it was primarily just pictures and profiles of young actors. A few of the actors, though, are shown in poses either topless or baring plenty of skin, something some parents might not want their young teens or pre-teens viewing. These magazines are aimed at the young- and pre-teen market.

GL (Girl’s Life Magazine)
Of the magazines AFA Journal reviewed, GL was decent. Nothing in the June/July 2003 edition spoke to teens in a graphic way about sex or relationships. The magazine did include a feature on ice-breakers for girls to meet guys, but did not include anything sexually suggestive. This is especially important considering that this magazine, gauging by its content, is geared toward younger teen and preteen readers.

GL was the only magazine of the group AFA Journal found that actually advised a reader to seek spiritual help in a matter. In its "Dear Carol" section, the reader, who stated she was very religious, was urged to talk to a clergy member on how to deal with a home life where her parents are getting divorced because of an adulterous affair. The other advice Carol gave readers seemed very reasonable and responsible.

Also, this edition of GL gave its readers a feature not about dieting to lose weight, but gave girls of all shapes and sizes advice on the best food, exercise and self-esteem boosters for whatever size they may be.

Defending their turf
Atoosa Rubenstein, editor-in-chief of CosmoGirl, told Fox News her magazine primarily tries to encourage confidence among teenage girls and provide a forum to discuss the issues they face.

"We’re not a bunch of heathens trying to corrupt girls," Rubenstein was quoted as saying. "Our first statement is always that the only truly safe sex is no sex. More teens than ever before are virgins. Teenage sex is definitely happening, but there’s also good news that sometimes gets forgotten."

It might be forgotten because, as previously discussed, chastity is not promoted in the June/July 2003 edition of CosmoGirl. Rather, according to what AFA Journal found, CosmoGirl takes a lot of liberty in presenting a very sexually charged magazine.

"These magazines do not take a stand," Elayne Bennett, president of the adolescent girls abstinence program Best Friends Foundation, told Fox News. "Magazines are marketing sex in a big way….  They aren’t saying sex is not really for you at this time in your life. That’s where parents and teachers think they’ve fallen short."

Parents concerned about what messages their children are getting about sex from the media should be very aware that, even for magazines with younger readers, the magazine companies operate on a "sex sells" philosophy. 

"Parents should make it a point to be the primary source of information on sex with their children," AFA President Tim Wildmon said. "That way they know exactly what message their children are getting. It’s become painfully clear the media have a much more secular, “have fun first’ agenda, and our kids deserve better than that."  undefined

Teen mag alternative
Parents and teens looking for a good alternative teen magazine should consider Brio, a magazine for teenage girls, produced by Focus on the Family. For more information, check out the Web site below.