Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Motherhood and Sexuality: A 20-Year Content Analysis of Sexuality-Related Articles in Popular Magazines for Mothers

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Motherhood and Sexuality: A 20-Year Content Analysis of Sexuality-Related Articles in Popular Magazines for Mothers

Article excerpt


This exploratory study investigated the inclusion of articles related to sexuality in magazines targeted to mothers over a 20-year period. Articles in the most popular parenting magazines, including American Baby, Baby Talk, Fit Pregnancy, Good Housekeeping, Mothering, Parenting, Parents, and Working Mother, were analyzed for sexuality content from 1991 to 2010. The starting point for this research was selected after an obviously pregnant Demi Moore appeared nude on the cover of the August 1991 issue of Vanity Fair. The cover, and many others that followed, suggested an acknowledgement of pregnant women as sexual beings. However, it also raised questions about if such an acknowledgement exists in magazines targeted to mothers by their inclusion of articles on sexuality issues. Four issues per year of each of the eight magazines (N=548 issues) were analyzed for sexuality-related content. Results revealed that of the 14,746 articles analyzed over the 20-year period and across all eight magazines, few (n=332 or 2.3%) included content on sexuality issues. The limitations, implications, and directions for further research are discussed.

Key Words: Mothers, sexuality, parenting magazines, content analysis


Motherhood is an experience that alters a woman's sense of herself and her relationships. In her classic book, Of woman born: Motherhood as experience and institution, Rich (1976) suggests that the unique sexual and intimate aspects of pregnancy, childbirth, and mothering are an important part of women's experience. Two decades later in her book, Women's sexuality across the lifespan, Daniluk (1998) reiterates this point about the link between motherhood and sexuality, suggesting that birthing, breastfeeding, and nurturing a child are experiences that impact a woman's sense of herself as a sexual person (Daniluk, 1998).

Women may turn to the popular or academic literature on mothering to understand their sexual feelings when breastfeeding their child, or to make sense of the changes in their intimate relationships and levels of sexual desire during the early years of parenting. However, in so doing, they will find few answers to their questions. While there are numerous books filled with advice on how to breastfeed and care for children at each stage of their development, there is little attention in the literature to the sexual desires and sexual experiences of mothers. Sexuality issues are rarely addressed in popular pregnancy and parenting books. One exception would be the books by Vicki Iovine: The girlfriend's guide to pregnancy (1995) and The girlfriend's guide to surviving the first year of motherhood (1997). Both books include a chapter on sexuality. Yet even popular books that specifically address women's sexuality and sexual development such as For yourself." The fulfillment of female sexuality (Barbach, 2000), Women's sexualities (Ellison, 2006), Sex matters for women (Foley, Kope, & Sugrue, 2002), Women's experience of sex (Kitzinger, 1985), and Sexual Salvation (McCormick, 1994) pay little or no attention to the changes in women's sexual issues when they become mothers. Such findings support Ester Perel's claim in her international bestseller, Mating in captivity, that the sexual invisibility of the American mother is ingrained in our national psyche (Perel, 2006, p. 151).

If mothers turn to the popular media, they will find no shortage of highly sexualized images of women (Kilbourne, 2000; Lamb & Brown, 2006). However, from advertisements for maternity clothing through representations of mothers at all stages of the family life cycle, images of women as mothers and as sexually interesting and desirable people are rare (Daniluk, 1998). It is only in more recent decades that the presentation in advertising of mothers as sexual has occurred (Dobscha, 2006).

In August 1991, the nude photograph of an obviously pregnant Demi Moore appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. …

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