Alright, let’s talk about it: Sex Journalism and Gendered News

We all know about it, but nobody wants to report on it. Why is that? From the first scholarly book on the topic ‘Sex and Journalism’ to speaking with Taboob magazine founder Zoe Gater, it’s time to dive deep into the hidden world of sex journalism.

After reading about Gonzo journalism in my last post, I decided that I really wanted to focus on areas where journalism pushes boundaries, and also where journalism should push boundaries. This lead me to the cul-de-sac of sex journalism, which I thought would be a mainstream topic as sex is everywhere in the media; sex sells. To my surprise, once I typed in ‘sex journalism’ into Google, not much came up at all. However, what did come up was the the first scholarly book on the subject, Sex and Journalism: Critical Global Perspectives, which covers topics such as consent laws, discussions around gender and sexuality, and also case studies from a group of prostitutes in Mexico who turned to journalism to tell their stories. To my surprise, it was only released in 2019. This begs the question, how has sex journalism not been examined or studied before 2019? given the importance of sex news and education as a public information source, I thought journalists would be all over it.

Why is sex a niche subject in journalism?

Many critics and journalists believe that sex isn’t a valuable topic to report on. These views come from ideas that sex is a ‘lite topic that requires little depth or expertise’ and ‘anyone can offer advice, based on their own experience’. It’s clear that from my short endeavour into scholarly literature around sex journalism that the research into the exploration and reporting of sexuality by journalists is seriously dismissed within academia. However, paradoxically, it’s not entirely the media’s fault for a severe lack of sex journalism. According to Middleweek, those working within the field of sex do not hold the media in high regard. There seems to be a clear discourse between the journalists interest to report on sex and the opportunity provided by people within the sex industry to report, which is supported by the idea that there are feelings of frustration among ‘sexperts’ (sex educators, sexual health clinicians and therapists) in response to the lack of non-biased and fair reporting of sex, and the difficulty of persuading journalists to explore sex in a more positive light.

I tried to find a clear definition of sex journalism, which as the blurb of Sex and Journalism suggests, I found very little. According to the limited scholarly research, sex journalism was defined as ‘sex press’ in the 1940’s and 50’s, but can now also be defined as ‘sexual science news’, which aims to cover topics of sexuality, sexual behaviour and sexual health. One reason as to why sex journalism is perhaps misunderstood and under-reported could be that news media coverage of sex was intended to ‘sensationalize, titillate, or create controversy’ rather than educate, break stigmas and encourage communication, which I believe should be the focal point of sex journalism. It’s no wonder that people within the sex industry are as reluctant to work alongside reporters as reporters are to work alongside ‘sexperts’; yes sex does sell, but apparently only when it’s for pleasure, not education.

Who reports on Sex?

Long story short; it’s mainly freelance female journalists. This is where the ideology of ‘gendered news’ comes in, as suggested by Middleweek. Traditionally, there is hard and soft news within journalism, which relates to what topics a male journalist will report on, and what topics a female journalist would report on. According to Middleweek’s report, hard news refers to topics such as public affairs, politics and war which have historically been associated with men. On the other hand, soft news is associated with topics surrounding human interest, consumer news, and culture and social policy, which has been coded as ‘feminine’ topics. Of course this isn’t representative of all journalists, and for several decades now, media scholars have challenged these presumptions, which has led to the ‘opening up of public discourse’ surrounding why news topics have become gender-dependant. Many critics have argued that more human interest stories and angles to journalism have led to the ‘feminisation of journalism’, which is a good thing and has opened up more opportunities for aspiring female journalists in a traditionally male ordered field. However, the impact of mainly female freelance journalists reporting on sex hasn’t been studied as of yet, but it’s definitely an area of journalism research I shall be following.

Taboob Magazine— An Interview with founder, Zoe Gater

a look at Taboob magazine

Talking about female freelance journalists reporting on sex, I would like to introduce you to Zoe Gater, who is a journalist and founder of an independent online magazine very cleverly named Taboob, which aims to educate, enlighten and encourage the exploration of repressed and prohibited sexual topics. I first met Zoe Gater at a concert in Bournemouth when we were around the age of 14, but since then she’s become a fully fledged journalist specialising in discussing and writing sex journalism. I reached out to her over email, and here’s what she had to say:

So Zoe, what made you decide to start Taboob magazine?

I wanted to start TABOOB as I felt as though there wasn’t something like it on the market already, there wasn’t education surrounding sex all in one place. Within the magazine industry, sex is typically only used to sell — which is the same case in most walks of life. ‘Sex magazines’ aren’t for addressing issues or debunking myths which are usually kept underground.

The mission of TABOOB is to educate and enlighten people, encouraging the exploration of previously repressed and prohibited sexual topics. It is important that collectively, we can understand that our bodies, thoughts, and feelings toward sexual topics are perfectly normal. There should be no shame in individual sexual preferences and practices, whether it’s financial domination, bondage, asexuality, and everything in-between.

What topics have you covered so far, and what do you aim to report about in future issues?

So far, I’ve covered polyamory, financial domination, and female masturbation but in my next issue, I’m covering much more such as pregnancy during a pandemic, polycystic ovaries, the science behind female orgasm, porn addiction, DDLG relationships, BAME issues such as differing opinions on dating and marriage, contraception tales etc. There’s a lot more being discussed in issue two.

How did you initially feel about reporting on ‘taboo’ subjects?

Initially, I was quite nervous that I was going to be judged for reporting on these topics — but that’s exactly what I’m trying to fight. If nobody speaks about it, we can’t possibly move forward. And the way to get over a taboo is to talk and discuss things openly so we can gain a better insight and understanding into particular topics that we are sheltered from.

What reactions have you had to Taboob?

I’ve actually only had positive feedback and responses to TABOOB! Many people have agreed that it’s something that needs to be out there for people to learn from and as I said, there’s nothing like it on the market currently (that I’m aware of anyway). Some people get embarrassed and shy about it but I’m sure the more issues that are released and the more people get talking, it will open up the opportunity for even more interesting and engaging stories that we can all learn from.

What does sex journalism mean to you?

Sex journalism to me, is educational content. In the same way as politics is reported for people to learn from and engage in, I think sex journalism should be the same. It’s an outlet for people to learn about themselves.

How do you think sex journalism is represented in the media?

I think in the media it’s portrayed as easy journalism, I think many people think that everything to be said about sex has already been said but I just don’t agree with that. I also think that a lot of sex journalism seems to be based around pleasuring men e.g. 5 moves in the bedroom to get him going… i don’t want to do articles like that, I want to explore the psychology of fetish and functionality of relationships and get people to know themselves and understand that discussing it isn’t wrong. If there’s more education, there’s less chance of things going wrong e.g. STIs, or for example, hurting someone badly during rough sex by not practicing things correctly because they’ve never been told how to.

There is a concept suggested by Fotopoulou in 2017 called ‘biodigital vulnerability’, which describes the complexity of being female and public online and feeling both empowered and vulnerable. Have you experienced these feelings when reporting for Taboob?

Oh I absolutely feel empowered when reporting on these topics, I think as women it is bold to be sexual or discuss these topics as we’ve always been told it’s not ladylike or we aren’t supposed to have pleasure in the same way as men. We have been called derogatory terms for simply having sex with men, if you have a body count of over 10 you aren’t ‘wifey’ material. It’s insanity. So yes, I do find empowerment in being able to freely discuss these topics. You definitely do put yourself in a vulnerable position too, for example (I’m not sure if this is very relevant) but when men find out what I write about, they instantly change the way they act towards me. They usually try to be more sexual with me thinking that that is what I want, but it isn’t at all. Just because I write about sex does not mean that I want to have sex with anybody and everybody.

So there we have it, and in depth look at sex journalism. I completely agree with everything Zoe said; sex journalism should be all about education and asking those questions that maybe you’ve always wondered but never spoken about. It should be a chance for people to learn about themselves and educate, rather than this forbidden topic that we do but don’t discuss. If you want to read Taboob magazine, be sure to follow them on Instagram to stay up to date with issue releases!

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Hey there, I’m Carys! Come on in and read all about the areas where Journalism pushes boundaries; from Gonzo to the legal challenges. Socials: @CCMJourno

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Carys

Carys

Hey there, I’m Carys! Come on in and read all about the areas where Journalism pushes boundaries; from Gonzo to the legal challenges. Socials: @CCMJourno

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