Gunter, Barrie (2002). Media Sex: What Are the Issues? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. pp. 350.
Reichert, Tom and Jacqueline Lambiase, eds. (2003). Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. pp. 294.
Media scholars have been writing extensively about sex in the media for decades. Many of the studies have focused on the kinds of sexual portrayals (Kunkel, Cope-Farrar, Biely, Farinola & Donnerstein, 2001). In addition, much of the concern surrounding these media images has been pointed toward advertising (Soley & Kruzbard, 1986; Ferguson, Kreshel, & Tinkham, 1990, for example). Given the plethora of research done already, it's logical to ask whether we really need two more books on sex in the media. After reviewing Gunter's Media Sex: What Are the Issues? and Reichert and Lambiase's Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal, I'm ready to offer a resounding yes-and maybe.
Throughout the majority of Media Sex: What Are the Issues?, Gunter explores a lot of important topics such as risky portrayals in the media, stereotypes, policy issues, etc. Although this is not new information, Gunter has categorized all of the major (and some minor) research on media sex and written about the studies in such a way that a graduate student could pick up this volume with very little initial understanding and walk away after reading it cover to cover finding himself not only well versed in media sex studies, but also having a handle on media theory and methodology. If I were teaching a graduate seminar in this area, I would choose this book. It offers a wealth of information. (For starters, the thirty-five pages of references would be a boon to anyone doing a literary search for a research paper.) It may be too dense for just one semester, but it ought to prove itself worthy over time for anyone conducting research on sexuality in the media.
The book is not without its flaws. First, it doesn't have any pictures. This strikes me as odd, and not just because a book about sexual images seems like it ought to offer a least a few tantalizing pictures. Gunter's book is obviously an academic approach to the field-and rightly so. However, its sterile approach (starting with the lack of pictures, but also with the unemotional, somewhat remote writing) seems incongruous given some of the topics. For example, in Chapter 5, Degrading to women? Gunter reports on not one, but three, content analysis studies of slasher movies. It's fair to question whether "slasher movies" are mainstream enough for the detail reported in a book of this caliber. Gunter also reports on some studies that have examined x-rated and xxx-rated videos and other pornographic material. When Gunter writes about these topics, he does so with the same tone as when he writes about health risks and personal hygiene. The ultimate effect of this nonjudgmental approach is that all of the information presented in the book seems equally important. While this may have been the author's intent, it might have been helpful to have a wrap-up chapter that puts some of the topics into perspective.
If Gunter's book is a hands-off, analytic, sterile report of media sex studies, than Reichert and Lambiase's book, Sex in Advertising: Perspectives on the Erotic Appeal is a roller coaster, rollicking ride of advertising sex studies. For one thing, it has pictures! The historical pictures are particularly helpful as they put into perspective the "it's in the eye of the beholder" approach to sex in advertising.
However, one reason Reichert and Lambiase's book has highs and lows is because of the dizzying number of different approaches to advertising studies presented in the book. …