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Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.

Sex and sexuality in British media

Smith, Clarissa (2015) Sex and sexuality in British media. In: The Routledge Companion to British Media History. Routledge, London, pp. 133-146. ISBN 9780415537186

Item Type: Book Section


Increased visibility and the seemingly diverse nature of media representations of sex and sexuality in contemporary media might suggest that British society has become more liberal and tolerant of expressions of different sexual interests. However, the mediatization of sex (whether depictions of actual acts; talk about identities, practices or problems; humorous or serious references to sex) continues to provoke great anxiety and controversy. Indeed the media are often accused of harboring and promoting sexual, and therefore social, disorder. Representations across television, music video and magazines are increasingly ‘pornographic’ – encouraging ‘oversexualized’ behaviours in boys and young men and the over-enthusiastic embrace of ‘sexiness’ in girls and young women; fostering ‘bad body-image’, depression, promiscuity; contributing to marriage breakdown, divorce and general unhappiness; and trivializing art and storytelling. Yet at the same time, it seems clear that sexual content can make an important, albeit controversial, contribution to the vibrancy of media output, whether that is fictionalized drama, or educational, reality or documentary programing (Attwood, 2006; Arthurs, 2004; McNair, 2002, 2013).

Thus, the mediatization of sex presents us with a number of interesting problems and contradictions. The media offer up representations of a diverse range of sexual desires, encounters and practices, for which they are both praised and vilified and, at the same time, the media are the key means by which calls for a ‘re-moralization’ of culture are repeatedly aired and disseminated. The adage ‘sex sells’ seems ever more apposite at this time, although for some media commentators, life would be better if ‘sex’ was not so ubiquitous and if people would keep their private lives private. Yet, it is precisely this idea that ‘sex’ is an entirely private matter that renders sex and sexuality so important to studies of contemporary culture. Mediatized sex exists in a variety of spaces – it is both in the media and about the media.
This paradox will be central to the discussion of contemporary and historical examples in this chapter. Hence, this chapter will seek to capture some of the complex topographies of representations and discussions of sex and sexuality within and across the media.

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Depositing User: Clarissa Smith


Item ID: 6105
ISBN: 9780415537186
Official URL:

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ORCID for Clarissa Smith: ORCID iD

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Date Deposited: 22 Mar 2016 14:39
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2019 15:38