Women's Magazines Pressure Women Into Degrading Sex While Pretending It's Empowering

The young women of today face constant pressure from the most popular, mainstream women’s magazines to engage in what could ultimately be harmful behavior.

By Keelia Clarkson2 min read
Shutterstock/Head over Heels

I first started reading popular young women’s magazines when I was about 13 years old. I didn’t have many friends to talk to, had recently started homeschooling, had no experience whatsoever with boys, and found myself severely uncomfortable with the woman I was very quickly becoming. I turned to women’s magazines to teach me the ways of my impending adulthood, to give me a vision with which to make sense of the world, and to learn what would be expected of me in a romantic relationship and what it meant to be a modern young woman today.

Much of what I encountered in those magazines as a young, impressionable, lonely teen were articles that promoted sexual liberation, fetishes, exploration, and expectations. But more than that, they elevated the importance of adventurous sex within romantic relationships, made it into an all-important ingredient that no romance could survive without. These magazines fed their young readers the narrative that women who weren’t open to new, exciting sexual escapades or kinks were afraid of their bodies, forced into submission by the patriarchy, and ashamed of their true sexual desires — such women were a danger to the liberation of all women. And who wants to be that?

Be Open-Minded, Just Like Us 

Our culture has entered a time in which “you do you” is the new anthem of younger generations. Millennials and Gen Zers are encouraged to withhold judgment of someone else’s lifestyle or choices and pledge allegiance to embolden others to live their lives the way that makes them happy. And this can be a good thing — a society that too closely regulates individual freedoms isn’t one I’d want to be part of. But it seems this open-mindedness is more of a one-way street than something that’s offered to all.

While these magazines boast of their championing the sexual freedom of young women everywhere, they ironically (perhaps unwittingly) prude-shame women into believing themselves oppressed, anti-feminist in the worst sense, and filled with internalized misogyny if they don’t fall in line with the new sexual standards of romantic relationships today. Threesomes, deviant fantasies, and sex toys are glorified, presented as the ultimate show of empowerment and what should be the norm in your sexual life.

They’re pressuring women to engage in certain fetishes and kinks in order to be seen as empowered and modern. 

They're doing more than pushing for individual freedom among women. They’re pressuring women to engage in certain fetishes and kinks, many of which some women find painful or degrading, in order to be seen as empowered and modern. And the pressure for young women to embrace boldness in their sexuality starts early, if Teen Vogue’s recent encouragement of under-aged readers to send nudes and “sext” their significant other is any indication. 

What Would Truly Empower Women?

Women’s empowerment has, from the time I can remember, been a hot-button issue for many. Many mainstream women's magazines attempt to tackle it by publishing "sex-positive" content, often having the word “SEX” scrawled across the cover, offering readers all the best tips, tricks, and stories of escapades. But is being so centered on sex really all that empowering to women? Isn’t there more to a woman than her sex drive?

Isn’t there more to a woman than her sex drive?

Perhaps the secret to truly offering empowerment to young women would be providing them with more to think about than sex tips — especially those which are often dehumanizing to women. Growing up, I sure could’ve used more images of women who found their strength in self-respect, thoughtfulness, patience, and discretion. Young women deserve this — we deserve for our agency to be reinforced through the media we consume. We deserve to be inspired to find a committed love whose success depends on more than an exhilarating sex life. We deserve to be reminded that our bodies and minds have inherent value far beyond what we’re often led to believe.

Closing Thoughts

It’s all too easy to feel persuaded into things we don’t even really want to do — this unfortunate truth has led countless women to make mistakes they regret for the rest of their life, and it’s troubling that much of the media young women consume today only compounds this.