Portrayed as sex objects in advertisements


Portrayed as Sex Objects in Advertisements


Women are often portrayed as sex objects in advertisements. Past research indicates that short-term exposure to nonviolent sexual media stimuli can produce cognitive changes in men which, in turn, can affect their behavior toward women (Mulac, et al, 2002, p.311). Much research explore how sex is used in advertising (McArthur and Resko 1975, Livingstone and Green 1986, Hurtz and Durkin 1996, Hutchings 1996, Lin 1997, Munshi 1998, Furnham and Thomson 1999, Ganahl et al. 2003). Most advertisements did not use sex to sell the product; however, if sex was used, it was more likely to appear in an advertisement aimed at a male audience (Monk-Turner, et al, 2007, p. 201).

Advertisements provide a gauge for what is desirable and what is normal. In Goffman's (1974, 1979) terms, advertising serves to define, or frame, reality. For these reasons, the social impact of advertising cannot be overstated. Research has shown that violence against women is a serious public health and human rights concern (World Health Organization 2000) and that the simultaneous presentation of women as sex objects and victims in various forms of media increases acceptance of violence against women (Malamuth et al. 2000). In light of this, it seems imperative that portrayals of women as sex objects in advertising receive further empirical study (Stankiewicz and Roselli, 2008, p. 580).

Research Objectives and Literature Review

This research proposes to examine the effect that sexually explicit advertisements has on men's interaction with women and may require theoretical innovation, refine existing theories, or serve to verify past theoretical assumptions regarding the topic (Berg, 1998, p. 17).

This topic is being researched as it is potentially a major issue in the society. Men and women interact on a daily basis and it is crucial that women are not degraded and viewed as equals by men. Gender inequality is a problem. In the 1995 Human Development Report focusing on gender, UNDP presented the Gender-Related Development Index (GDI) which includes gender inequality in its overall assessment of aggregate well-being in a country. The GDI thus suggests, appropriately, that gender inequality is not only a problem for those it disfavours, but that it detracts from overall development in a country (Bardhan and Klasen, 1999, p.985-986).

Sex and nudity appeals are frequently used in advertising as a means to attract attention to the advertisement. Today in the USA, up to 38% of ads using men show the model in a sexual context (Reichert and Carpenter 2004; Rohlinger 2002). Women are even more likely to be portrayed in sexually appealing roles there (Lin 1998; Reichert et al. 1999). In Belgium, 17.1% of magazine ads in general, and 55% of ads for personal care, featured some degree of eroticism in 1995 (De Pelsmacker and Geuens 1997) (Dens, et al, 2008, p. 366).

Gender-role schema primed by sexual cues may guide men to focus on women's sexuality in non-sexual settings. Jansma et al. (1997) argued that exposure to sexually-explicit material, and especially degrading pornography, prime cognitive schemata consistent with the content of the stimuli. These schemata encourage men to focus on women's sexuality, fostering high expectations for women's sexual attractiveness, sexual interest, and sexual permissiveness. With men's attention focused selectively on women's sexuality, they may disregard other characteristics, such as women's intellect (Mulac, et al, 2002, p. 312). Furthermore, Lanis and Covell discover that exposure to sexually objectifying advertisements produces anti-woman attitudes (1995).

Recent work by McKenzie-Mohr and Zanna (1990) and Jansma, Linz, Mulac, and Imrich (1997) have created a new agendum for the exploration of the effects of sexual content. As a context for outcome assessment these authors prefer highly plausible mixed-sex interpersonal interactions, such as those in a work-oriented setting. The sexual objectification of women in non-sexual contexts can subtly devalue women and their competencies (Benokraitis, 1997). Both research teams (Jansma et al., 1997; McKenzie-Mohr & Zanna, 1990) differentiate male participants by sex-type as determined by the Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI, Bem, 1974), predicting more stereotypically masculine responses from gender-schematic men. Additionally, Jansma et al. (1997) introduced a key moderating stimulus variablethe sexual degradation of women. Revising old standards, which rely upon researchers' personal judgments regarding content, these authors distinguish objectively among sexual and degrading, sexual and non-degrading, and non-sexual experimental stimuli (Mulac, et al, 2002, p. 312).

A number of questions are addressed in this research including (although not limited to) the following:

  1. Has men's behaviour towards women change after viewing sexually explicit advertisements? If yes, in what way?
  2. If the answer to the previous question is no, why?
  3. How do men define sexually explicit advertisements?
  4. How do men define appropriate usage of female models in advertisements?

Researchers assessed outcomes primarily in terms of men's aggressive behaviour, or negative attitudes toward women (e.g., viewing them not as equals), or both. The main barriers to this research are the contrived nature of the outcome variables. In this qualitative study, the result will give scholars a deeper and better understanding to the problem. However, quantitative study should be conducted so that the full impact of this problem can be calculated.

Qualitative Research

Qualitative procedures are chosen as they are fruitful and, often, provide a greater depth of understanding of the topics studied (Berg, 1998, p. 2). The notion of quality is essential to the nature of things (Dabbs, 1982, p.32). Quality refers to the what, how, when, and where of a thing- its essence and ambience. Qualitative research thus refers to the meanings, concepts, definitions, characteristics, metaphors, symbols, and descriptions of things. Certain experiences cannot be meaningfully expressed by numbers. Qualitative research strategies can provide perspectives that can prompt recall of these common or half-forgotten sights, sounds, and smells (Berg, 1998, p. 3).

Nelson et al. define qualitative research as an interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and sometimes counterdisciplinary field. It crosscuts the humanities and the social and physical sciences. It is multiparadigmatic in focus. Its practitioners are sensitive to the value of the multi-method approach. They are committed to the naturalistic perspective, and to the interpretive understanding of human experience. Qualitative research embraces two tensions at the same time. On the one hand, it is drawn to a broad, interpretive, postmodern, feminist, and critical sensibility. On the other hand, it is drawn to more narrowly defined positivist, postpositivist, humanistic, and naturalistic conceptions of human experience and its analysis. (Nelson, et al, 1992, p.4)

Triangulation will be used in this study as by combining several lines of sight, researchers obtain a better, more substantive picture of reality; a richer, more complete array of symbols and theoretical concepts; and a means of verifying many of these elements. Triangulation is restricted to the use of multiple data-gathering techniques to investigate the same phenomenon. The important feature of triangulation is not the simple combination of different kinds of data but the attempt to relate them so as to counteract threats to validity identified in each (Berg, 1998, p. 5).

From the ontological position, people's knowledge, views. Understandings, interpretations, experiences, and interactions are meaningful properties of the social reality which the research questions are designed to explore. From the epistemological position, a legitimate way to generate data on these ontological properties is to interact with people, to talk to, to listen to them, and to gain access to their accounts and articulations (Mason, 1996, pp. 39-40).


Sexually explicit and non-explicit advertisements will be shown to different groups of men.

Group 1 will be shown an advertisement that is sexually-explicit and degrading. Group 2 will be shown an advertisement that is sexually-explicit and non-degrading. Group 3 will be shown an advertisement that is non-sexual, a product oriented advertisement containing no human figures.

Responses regarding women as sex objects will be measured immediately. The men will be divided into focus groups that are videotaped with the consent of the participants and will consist of 8 men each, all of the men will be from the same initial groupings. During the focus group interviews, the men will be asked to express their attitudes and opinions on sexually explicit advertisements displaying women as sex objects and on women before and after viewing the advertisements.

Focus group has been chosen as the informal group discussion atmosphere of the focus group will help to encourage subjects to speak freely and completely about behaviours, attitudes, and opinions they possess. Interactions among and between group members stimulate discussions in which one group member reacts to comments made by another (Berg, 1998, pp. 100- 101). Researchers can observe session participants interacting and sharing specific attitudes and experiences, and they can explore these issues.

These observations will provide greater amounts of detail on various attitudes, opinions and, experiences. Hearing how one group member responds to another provides insights without disrupting underlying normative group assumptions. Meanings and answers arising during focus group interviews are socially constructed rather than individually created. Interactions between group members largely replace the usual interaction between interviewer and the subject, greater emphasis is given to subjects' viewpoints. Information from the focus group will be treated as text or a document representing an instance of the phenomenon being studied (Berg, 1998, pp. 104-105).

Notes on various behaviours and physical expressions of participants will be taken. However, these notes will represent only a small portion of the basic verbal data typically collected during a focus group interview (Berg, 1998, p. 106). The interviewers will create rapport between themselves and the groups, as well as between group members so that members will feel comfortable talking openly in the group (Berg, 1998, p. 110).

After the focus group interviews, respondents will be asked to participate in an entirely different study. Researchers who are from a different academic department will lead them to take part in a videotaped interpersonal interaction study. The researchers are interested in finding out the differences between men's and women's expenditure. While the men view the advertisements, the women will participate in a questionnaire regarding their expenditure. Then, each woman will be randomly-assigned with a male partner for the interaction task. The women will have no knowledge of the men's advertisement exposure.

The man and the woman were seated side-by-side approximately 50 cm apart on a sofa, facing a desk-height table. The researcher will present them with 12 different products (e.g., a pair of jeans, a recipe book, an electronic shaver). The participants will then be asked to name the maximum price they are willing to pay for the item. They will be encouraged to discuss the reasons behind their choices. The researcher will explain that they are allotted 10 minutes and that if they finish the task sooner, they should review their choices. All participants will receive a written debriefing statement at the conclusion of the study.

A similar study has been conducted by Mulac et al. (2002). However, there is no focus group interview in that study. Focus group interview is believed to have the ability to produce interesting topics that spontaneously arise during the group discussion. Due to the nature of the groups, it is possible that topics and issues not originally considered by the previous study as important surface as very important to the study groups and will serve as an explanation for the topic (Berg, 1998, p. 110). This study aims to find the gap from the previous study.



Participants of this study will be men and women with ages ranging from 18 to 26 years. They will be undergraduate students of University of Technology Sydney studying different degrees. Participants will be rewarded with gift vouchers to be spent in the university bookshop. Sample size for the focus groups will be determined by redundancy criterion and sample size for the interaction task will be determined from the focus group sample size. Stratified random sampling has been chosen as it allows for controls for variables which are possible sources of influences on the major variable (Sproull, 1995, p.115).

Data Collection and Analysis

Validity and Reliability

The study will have high internal validity as it will be recorded. This study will be using different methods (focus group interviews and observations) to see whether they corroborate one another (Silverman, 2006, p. 290).

As each focus group observation will be done by 2 observers, an interobserver reliability score of more than .70 will be deemed reliable. As for the interaction task, an intercoder reliability score of more than .70 will also be deemed reliable. However, in the case of either score being lower than .70, the observational system can be modified by improving the observation and recording conditions (e.g., schedule shorter focus group interviews or give observers a better viewing position). Also, by adhering to the redundancy criterion of the focus group interviews, the number of observation sessions can be increased until consistent data are obtained (Frey, et al, 2000, p.115).

This proposal has described the research strategy and data analysis methods in a detailed manner which will ensure an acceptable standard of reliable research report. Furthermore, as both focus group interviews and interaction tasks will be videotaped, this study will be able to include verbatim accounts of what the participants say instead of only relying on the researchers' reconstruction of the general sense of what the participants say, which will then allow researchers' personal perspectives to influence the reporting (Seale, 1999, p.148).

Data Collection

Interviewers will try to be objective. In reality, however 'objective' they try to be, they are continually making judgments about what to write down or record, what they have observed, heard and experienced, and what they think it means. Their records will provide the fullest justification for their decisions. An account of the experience of the interviews and of what judgments are made throughout it will be part of the data (Mason, 1996, p. 52). The interviews and interactions will be videotaped so that the researchers can refer back to the recordings at any time during the study.

The verbal interchange of the interview is part of the data collection. However, the interviewers will ensure that their full attention is paid to the respondents' responses and will not fully rely on the recordings. The data will be derived in an interpretive sense, the interviews will be read for what the interviewers think they mean, or possibly what they think they can infer about something outside of the interview interaction itself (Mason, 1996, pp. 53-54).

Behavioral Variables

In order to distinguish the potential effects of viewing the three stimulus advertisements, 21 behavioural variables were selected from the interpersonal communication literature. They were chosen for their potential implication in five broad psychological categories of interest: dominance, sexual interest, anxiety, degradation, and disregard of intellect. They included linguistic variables, such as directives and sexual references, as well as non-verbal variables such as anxiety, body gaze, and proximity (Mulac, et al, 2002, p.316).

Behavioral Coding

The 21 behavioural variables were coded by teams of undergraduate students enrolled in an advanced university class in nonverbal communication analysis. The coders will be trained weekly by the authors and then coded one variable at a time for each participant. The coders will work individually and assess the behaviours in a communication interactional analysis laboratory, using a videotape recorder, a 19-inch television monitor, and a computer with a customized Hypercard program. This program recorded, in 1/10 second intervals, the amount of time spent per minute in various states such as: (a) looking at partner's face, (b) looking at partner's body, and (c) looking away from partner. Because the program also recorded changes in condition, it will make possible the computation of mean length of time spent in each condition (e.g., mean length of face gaze). During other replays of the interactions, observers coded, on a scale of 1-9 points, psychological variables such as dominance, sexual awareness, and anxiety. Four to five coders will be assigned to each of several subsets of the dyadic interactions (Mulac, et al, 2002, p.317).

Data Analysis

Transformation and Reliability of Behavioral Variables

Those variables for which the data were presented in the form of proportions (e.g., length of time touching partner) were arcsin transformed (Winer, 1971). Reliability estimates will be conducted for each team of raters using the data for each variable. These estimates will take the form of Ebel intraclass reliability coefficients (Winer, 1971). For each variable the data will be aggregated across the 4-5 judges in the form of arithmetic means to provide single scores for each male and female participant (Mulac, et al, 2002, p.317).

The data obtained from the focus group interviews and the data obtained from the interaction task will initially be analysed separately. After gathering all the data, data analysed from each group will be compared and checked whether they corroborated with the findings.


This duration of this research is predicted to be 9 weeks

This targeted schedule as follows:

Week 1 to 4

Data collection is done by conducting focus group interviews and interaction tasks. The duration may vary as this depends heavily on the redundancy criterion of the focus group interviews.

Week 4 to 6

Data collected will be analysed and double checked with the video recordings for accuracy.

Week 6 to 9

The study will be compiled into a journal article and presented to the school of communication.

Executive Summary

This research aims to highlight the severity that sexually-explicit advertisements have on the society. Previous findings have discovered that gender-related problems (e. g., violence towards women, rapes and degradation of women) have arisen from the viewing of these advertisements. The male participants of the study will be shown 3 different types of advertisements (sexually-explicit and degrading, sexually-explicit and non-degrading and non-sexual). They will then be accordingly grouped to focus groups and interviews will be conducted there. Afterwards, the male and female participants will be randomly assigned and be given an interaction task. This is when the observers do their observations regarding the men's interaction with women after viewing the advertisements. The qualitative methods used for this study will be focus group interviews and interaction task observations.

The duration of the study is expected to be 9 weeks. Findings will be analysed by the researchers and published in a communication journal so that the society will be more aware of the problem and will try to minimise it.


Bardhan, K. and Klasen, S., 1999, 'UNDP's gender-related indices: a critical review', World development, vol. 27 (6), pp.985-1010.

Berg, B., L. 1998, Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences, 3rd edition, Allyn & Bacon, Needham Heights, MA.

Dabbs, J. M., Jr. 1982, Making things visible. In J. Van Maanen (Ed.), Varieties of Qualitative Research, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Dens, N., Pelsmacker, P., D., and Janssens, W., 2009, 'Effects of Scarcely Dressed Models in Advertising on Body Esteem for Belgian Men and Women', Sex Roles, 60, pp. 366-378.

Frey, L., Botan, C. & Kreps, G. 2000, Investigating Communication: An Introduction to Research Methods, 2nd edition, Allyn & Bacon, Needham Heights, MA.

Lanis, K., & Covell, K., 1995, 'Images of women in advertisements: Effects on attitudes related to sexual aggression', Sex Roles, 32, pp. 639-649.

Mason, J. 1996, Qualitative Researching, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, CA.

Monk-Turner, E., Wren, K., McGill, L., Matthiae, C., Brown, S., & Brooks, D., 2008, 'Who is gazing at whom? A look at how sex is used in magazine advertisements', Journal of Gender Studies, Vol. 17(3), pp.201-209.

Mulac, A., Jansma, L. L., & Linz, D., G., 2002, 'Men's Behavior Toward Women After Viewing Sexually-Explicit Films: Degradation Makes a Difference', Communication Monographs, Vol. 69(4), pp. 311-328.

Nelson, C., Treichler, P. A., & Grossberg, L., 1992, 'Cultural studies', In L. Grossberg, C. Nelson, & P.A. Treichler (Eds.), 'Cultural Studies', pp. 1- 16, New York: Routledge.

Seale, C., 1999, The Quality of Qualitative Research, London: Sage.

Silverman, D., 2006, Interpreting Qualitative Data: Methods for Analysing Talk, Text and Interaction, 3rd edition, Sage Publications, London.

Sproull, N., L. 1995, Handbook of Research Methods, 2nd edition, Scarecrow Press, London.

Stankiewicz, J. M., & Rosselli, F., 2008, 'Women as Sex Objects and Victims in Print Advertisements', Sex roles, 58, pp. 579-589.

Please be aware that the free essay that you were just reading was not written by us. This essay, and all of the others available to view on the website, were provided to us by students in exchange for services that we offer. This relationship helps our students to get an even better deal while also contributing to the biggest free essay resource in the UK!