Young men who read magazines like Maxim, Playboy, and Men’s Health are less likely to seek their partners’ consent or respect sexual boundaries, according to a recent study conducted by Washington State University researchers. The study’s lead authors say that could be because magazine articles providing tips about how to have a better sex life often give readers a “false impression” about how to negotiate a consensual sexual encounter.
The study was based on over 300 college students who responded to questions about their magazine consumption and personal relationships. Researchers found that “the dominant heterosexual scripts in men’s magazines is negatively associated with consent negotiation intentions.” In other words, the men who read articles about how to land a hot girl are more likely to make inappropriate sexual advances toward women who aren’t interested, or push a sexual situation too far even when their partner is telling them to stop.
The correlation here doesn’t prove that these magazines are causing men to approach women in a predatory way. The researchers point out it’s certainly possible that guys who already have “dismissive” attitudes toward women are drawn to reading magazines that objectify women. But they also suggest that the media can contribute to larger cultural attitudes about sexual relationships.
“We learn a lot about how to act in a relationship by what we see and read in the media,” Stacey J.T. Hust, the lead researcher for the study, explained in a press release about her results. “Bad information can lead to bad decisions.”
This isn’t the first study that has examined the potentially harmful effects of the media’s portrayal of women. A 2012 study found that we’ve been taught to look at women in the same way we look at houses or sandwiches — not as a whole individual, but as a composite of separate attractive parts. In 2011, British researchers found that the descriptions of women used in men’s magazines can be indistinguishable from the views expressed by convicted rapists.
“There is a fundamental concern that the content of such magazines normalizes the treatment of women as sexual objects,” one of the lead researchers of that 2011 study said at the time. “We are not killjoys or prudes who think that there should be no sexual information and media for young people. But are teenage boys and young men best prepared for fulfilling love and sex when they normalize views about women that are disturbingly close to those mirrored in the language of sexual offenders?”
There are serious consequences to this pervasive cultural attitude about women as objects of men’s desires. When men believe that they are entitled to sex, they often respond violently when women deny it from them. The most recent example of this dynamic is the tragic mass killings in Isla Vista, when a young man decided to punish the “sluts” who weren’t attracted to him. After that news broke, a new website called “When Women Refuse” began documenting other recent incidents of violence perpetrated against women after they refused men’s sexual advances, in an attempt to prove how common this really is.
These attitudes have been so deeply embedded in our culture, young women believe that forfeiting their consent is a normal aspect of gender relations, according to a recent study. “Objectification, sexual harassment, and abuse appear to be part of the fabric of young women’s lives,” the study’s authors noted. This past week, women have been rallying around the #YesAllWomen hashtag to share those personal experiences more publicly.