New Study Focuses on Magazines and Sex

A vast number of Americans get information about sexual health issues like abortion, contraception, and STDs from popular magazines. What information are they getting?A Kaiser Family Foundation study examined sexual health reporting in women's magazines, teen magazines, and men's magazines from July 1995 to June 1996. The study also explored how people felt about coverage of sexual issues. Many people turn to magazines for information about sex, especially when they want to receive that information in confidence. 75 percent of adults surveyed believed magazines were "important" sources for finding out about issues like STDs, birth control, and abortion. 51 percent of the girls who read teen magazines said they use them to get such information.The Findings -- AbortionThe research showed that only the women's magazines paid any significant attention to abortion. Men's and teen magazines rarely covered abortion during the one-year period studied.The four teen magazines reviewed published no articles at all dealing primarily with abortion. Only one article in the teen magazines examined the abortion decision-making process.Even in women's magazines certain subjects, such as late-term and medical abortion, were very rarely mentioned. Birth Control and PregnancyWomen's magazines dealt with a broad range of contraceptive options, but neglected emergency contraception. Men's magazines devoted little attention to contraception other than the male-controlled methods of vasectomy and condom use.All three types of magazines stressed condoms as a form of birth control.Women's and teen magazines both strongly emphasized topics relating to pregnancy. Women's magazines concentrated on planned pregnancy, while teen magazines concentrated on unplanned pregnancy.Teen magazines most often focused on the adverse consequences of having sex.Reader FeedbackThe Kaiser Family Foundation also commissioned focus groups about whose coverage could be improved. The most common requests were for more articles about STD prevention, condom negotiation, and abstinence.Many wanted magazines to deal with issues of personal empowerment in sexual situations. In the words of one teenager, "[There is] a lot of 'how to wear condoms', but what if a guy doesn't wear one? I mean, you're gonna lose him. So you're gonna have unprotected sex."The final report of the study is available from the Kaiser Family Foundation free of charge: 1-800-656-4533.

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