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Sexual Messages in Black and White: A case study of Essence and Cosmo
Unformatted Document Text:  Seven articles in Cosmo addressed fidelity, but the advice was more mixed. Two of the Cosmo columns (8.7%) proposed giving him another chance, for example, “see how it all plays out as your relationship progresses”. Three (13%) advised leaving. The two columns in the other category questioned the allegation or the truth of the infidelity itself. Table Five. Infidelity Essence(N=17) Cosmo(N=23) Handling his infidelity Give him another chance 0 8.7% (2) Leave him 35.3% (6) 13% (13) Other 0 8.7% (2) Handling her infidelity Be remorseful 0 0 Ok to have an affair 5.9% (1) 0 Other 0 None of the columns in Cosmo mentioned the woman’s infidelity, and only one article in Essence mentioned her infidelity. In the latter, the writer suggested that it was acceptable for a woman to have an affair under certain circumstances. Similarly, only one column in Essence included advice on affairs with married men. Neither magazine’s advice column writers seemed to find faithfulness in relationships associated with matters of sexual pleasure. Discussion and Conclusion We observed at the outset that the female, educated, middle class, heterosexual readerships of Essence and Cosmo differed primarily in their income levels (Essence readers making more than twice that of Cosmo readers) and race (Essence targeting a Black audience, Cosmo a White audience). Discerning the sexual discourse from the findings must necessarily follow along the lines of social class and race. 15

Authors: Byerly, Carolyn. and Reviere, Rebecca.
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Seven articles in Cosmo addressed fidelity, but the advice was more mixed.  Two of the Cosmo 
columns (8.7%) proposed giving him another chance, for example, “see how it all plays out as 
your relationship progresses”.  Three (13%) advised leaving.  The two columns in the other 
category questioned the allegation or the truth of the infidelity itself.
Table Five.  Infidelity
Essence
(N=17)
Cosmo
(N=23)
Handling his infidelity
     Give him another chance 0
8.7% (2)
      Leave him
35.3% (6)
13% (13)
     Other
0
8.7% (2)
Handling her infidelity
    Be remorseful
0
0
    Ok to have an affair
5.9% (1)
0
     Other
0
None of the columns in Cosmo mentioned the woman’s infidelity, and only one article in 
Essence mentioned her infidelity.  In the latter, the writer suggested that it was acceptable for a 
woman to have an affair under certain circumstances.  Similarly, only one column in Essence 
included advice on affairs with married men.  Neither magazine’s advice column writers seemed 
to find faithfulness in relationships associated with matters of sexual pleasure.
Discussion and Conclusion
We observed at the outset that the female, educated, middle class, heterosexual 
readerships of Essence and Cosmo differed primarily in their income levels (Essence readers 
making more than twice that of Cosmo readers) and race (Essence targeting a Black audience, 
Cosmo a White audience).  Discerning the sexual discourse from the findings must necessarily 
follow along the lines of social class and race.  
15


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