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Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997

Jewitt, C. (1997) 'Images of Men: Male Sexuality in Sexual Health Leaflets


and Posters for Young People'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 2, no. 2, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/socresonline/2/2/6.html>
To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers if necessary
Received: 16/9/96

Accepted: 20/6/97

Published: 30/6/97

Abstract
This article presents a social semiotic analysis of the social construction of male sexuality in the
images of sexual health posters and leaflets for young people aged 13 to 19 years old. It explores
how male sexuality is managed at a visual level in sexual health leaflets and posters, and examines
the notions of masculinity, gender and sexuality which inform the imagery in them. The analysis
of the main structures of the images in which meanings are encoded reveals a conventional
representation of male sexuality. Sexual health leaflets and posters aimed exclusively at young
men present a more positive and complex image with regard to some aspects of male sexuality, in
particular sexual responsibility and sexual competence. Nonetheless, I conclude that the images in
sexual health promotion leaflets and posters reinforce the dominant ideology of masculinity and
fail to address the gap between young men's realities and cultural norms of masculinity.
Keywords:
Images; Masculinity; Sexual Health; Sexuality; Social Semiotics; Visual Representation; Young
Men

Introduction
1.1
Visual representations are acknowledged by sociologists to be influential in shaping people's
views of the world. People constantly use visual data to interpret life, and visual data articulates
the everyday realities that research based solely on written data may overlook (Ball and Smith,
1992). Images have a central role in perceptions of health promotion materials. Indeed, an
audience's response to health promotion materials may be entirely image based (Bostock and
Leathar, 1982). Images communicate messages, reinforce and clarify written messages, and reduce
the threat of written messages (thereby increasing the likelihood that they will be considered). The
target audience's self-identification with the imagery of health promotion materials is therefore a
basic prerequisite for their effectiveness (Stockdale et al, 1989).
1.2

The images in a range of materials have been studied to identify the ways in which masculinity
and male sexuality are managed at a visual level. This has included, studies of public art (Melosh,
1993), the images of men in antenatal and parenting literature (Graham, 1977; Meerabeau, 1987;
Dingwall et al, 1991), images in boys' comics (Boyd, 1991), and advertising (Millum, 1975; Doty,
1993; Jackson, 1994). I chose to focus on the representation of male sexuality in formal sources of
sexual health information (leaflets and posters) as they illustrate the established views on male
sexuality amongst sexual health professionals. Images in young people's magazines and books,
and sexual health leaflets with no imagery were excluded from the analyzis. The sample of leaflets
and posters was drawn from sexual health leaflets and posters produced between 1986 and 1996
and currently widely circulated in England for use with young people and young men aged 13 to
19 years old. The leaflets and posters were gathered from the National Help for Health Trusts
Database, organizations based in London and nationally and agencies with a sexual health remit.
The World Health Organisation's definition of sexual health[1] was applied to determine whether a
leaflet or poster came within the realm of sexual health. A total of 48 leaflets and posters were
gathered, and a sample of ten posters and 22 leaflets was selected for the analysis using five
criteria: the type of producer; the meduardado pelo Microsoft Internet Explorer 5> Subject: Jewitt:
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http://www.socresonline.org.uk/2/2/6.html
Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997

Jewitt, C. (1997) 'Images of Men: Male Sexuality in Sexual Health


Leaflets and Posters for Young People'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 2, no. 2,
<http://www.socresonline.org.uk/socresonline/2/2/6.html>
To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers
if necessary
Received: 16/9/96

Accepted: 20/6/97

Published: 30/6/97

Abstract
This article presents a social semiotic analysis of the social construction of male sexuality in the
images of sexual health posters and leaflets for young people aged 13 to 19 years old. It explores
how male sexuality is managed at a visual level in sexual health leaflets and posters, and examines
the notions of masculinity, gender and sexuality which inform the imagery in them. The analysis
of the main structures of the images in which meanings are encoded reveals a conventional
representation of male sexuality. Sexual health leaflets and posters aimed exclusively at young

men present a more positive and complex image with regard to some aspects of male sexuality, in
particular sexual responsibility and sexual competence. Nonetheless, I conclude that the images in
sexual health promotion leaflets and posters reinforce the dominant ideology of masculinity and
fail to address the gap between young men's realities and cultural norms of masculinity.
Keywords:
Images; Masculinity; Sexual Health; Sexuality; Social Semiotics; Visual Representation; Young
Men

Introduction
1.1
Visual representations are acknowledged by sociologists to be influential in shaping people's
views of the world. People constantly use visual data to interpret life, and visual data articulates
the everyday realities that research based solely on written data may overlook (Ball and Smith,
1992). Images have a central role in perceptions of health promotion materials. Indeed, an
audience's response to health promotion materials may be entirely image based (Bostock and
Leathar, 1982). Images communicate messages, reinforce and clarify written messages, and reduce
the threat of written messages (thereby increasing the likelihood that they will be considered). The
target audience's self-identification with the imagery of health promotion materials is therefore a
basic prerequisite for their effectiveness (Stockdale et al, 1989).
1.2
The images in a range of materials have been studied to identify the ways in which masculinity
and male sexuality are managed at a visual level. This has included, studies of public art (Melosh,
1993), the images of men in antenatal and parenting literature (Graham, 1977; Meerabeau, 1987;
Dingwall et al, 1991), images in boys' comics (Boyd, 1991), and advertising (Millum, 1975; Doty,
1993; Jackson, 1994). I chose to focus on the representation of male sexuality in formal sources of
sexual health information (leaflets and posters) as they illustrate the established views on male
sexuality amongst sexual health professionals. Images in young people's magazines and books,
and sexual health leaflets with no imagery were excluded from the analyzis. The sample of leaflets
and posters was drawn from sexual health leaflets and posters produced between 1986 and 1996
and currently widely circulated in England for use with young people and young men aged 13 to
19 years old. The leaflets and posters were gathered from the National Help for Health Trusts
Database, organizations based in London and nationally and agencies with a sexual health remit.
The World Health Organisation's definition of sexual health[1] was applied to determine whether a
leaflet or poster came within the realm of sexual health. A total of 48 leaflets and posters were
gathered, and a sample of ten posters and 22 leaflets was selected for the analysis using five
criteria: the type of producer; the medium of an image; the main topic addressed by the image; the
primary target audience; the format. A total of 74 images were analyzed.
1.3
The analysis of visual texts can take three approaches: what is in the producer's mind; what is in
the reader's mind; or what is in the image. This article takes the third approach. This analysis has
been considerably facilitated by Kress and Van Leeuwen's recent book, Reading Visual Images:
The Grammar of Visual Design, (1996). The methodological approach of Kress and Van Leeuwen
(1996) is developed from social semiotic theory, in particular the work of the linguist Michael
Halliday. Social semiotics assumes that linguistic and visual grammatical forms (the grammar of
visual design) are formal rules which are not isolated from meaning (Halliday, 1985 cited in Kress
and Van Leeuwen, 1996). The method makes explicit how people produce and communicate
meaning through the spatial configurations of visual elements in western societies. Meaning is
encoded in the structures of images: the form of representation; the presentation of people, objects
and landscape; the composition; and its modality and medium. The description and interpretation
of these structures forms the basis of the social semiotic approach to analyzing visual texts.

Concepts of Masculinity
2.1
Societies ascribe different and distinct qualities to men and women. In western industrial societies
the dominant culture considers being aggressive, autonomous, and active to be male qualities. The
qualities culturally associated with femininity include being caring, warm, and sexually passive.
There is considerable debate within sociology as to whether such qualities really are gender
characteristics, whether they are biologically or socially determined, and in what ways they
maintain male power. Indeed some sociologists question whether there really is something that
social scientists call men that sets them apart from women (Edley and Wetherell, 1995).
2.2
Masculinity is sometimes discussed as a fixed singular identity. Morgan proposes that masculinity
is not a monolithic identity isolated from the influence of race, class and culture, but a range of
identities some of which are contradictory (Morgan, 1992). Some versions of masculine identity
(ie. hegemonic masculinity) are more accepted within society than others (ie. subordinate
masculinity). Hegemonic masculinity is constructed in the image of the White middle-class male
and differentiated from subordinated masculinities (Holland et al, 1993). Hegemonic masculinity
provides a set of normative attributes and rules against which other forms of masculinity are
measured. In this way hegemonic masculinity prescribes endless and exacting requirements on
men. In relation to sexuality, masculinity is usually described in terms of a dichotomy (eg.
between the potency of a gladiator and the impotency of a wimp) (Holland et al, 1993).
2.3
Although masculinity is expressed and acquired in many contexts, sexuality is a central site in
men's struggle to become masculine and the enactment of masculinity (Kimmel and Messner,
1995). The process of acquiring masculinity involves men in the exercise of power over women
and exposes men to vulnerability and potential failure (Wight, 1992). Men are also vulnerable in
relation to each other via competition, fear of rejection and openness, homophobia, and a lack of
role models.
2.4
Within western dominant culture there are gender expectations regarding sexual competence and
knowledge. Dominant conceptions of male sexuality and many of men's sexual anxieties centre on
sexual competence (Tiefer, 1993). There is a general reluctance in dominant western culture to
make explicit the difficulties of men in relation to sex. This reluctance is bound up with the
tendency in western culture to define men as healthy and male sexual desire as natural, simple and
straightforward in contrast to female pathology (Kimmel and Messner, 1995). There is a cultural
expectation that men are sexually knowledgable and women sexually ignorant. However young
women are usually better informed about general sexual matters than young men (Witwer, 1993).
The environment in which young men acquire sexual knowledge is competitive and unsupportive,
and the information they receive is often inaccurate (Sex Education Forum, 1994). The
contradiction between the cultural expectations on young men and the lack of sex education they
receive is managed by the social acceptance of young men's sexual exaggeration and lies.
2.5
Men play an important role in the use and choice of contraception. Contraception was considered
the responsibility of men (by both men and women) until female methods of contraception became
widely available in the mid 1960s (Schofield, 1973). Men's attitudes continue to influence strongly
the use of both male and female methods of contraception (Edwards, 1993). Young men's attitudes
to masculinity and gender roles influences their sexual behaviour, contraceptive use, and their
views on fatherhood (Marsiglio, 1993). However, it is women who are generally perceived by
society as the guardians of social and sexual responsibility. Current sexual discourses invest
women with sexual responsibility without the power to enforce it and treat women as the victims
of male sexual desire and sex as a male activity (Holland et al, 1993).

How Male Sexuality is Constructed in the Sample of Images


3.1
The main structures of images within which meaning is encoded were analyzed: the actions; the
setting; symbols and props; the appearance of the represented participants[2]; the composition; the
relationship between the image and the viewer; and the choice of medium.

The Actions of Men and Women


3.2
Analysis of the action in the sample of images reveals that men and women are represented as
equally active, however, the nature and occasion of men and women's action in the images differs.
Overall women are represented as passive or less active than men in the context of sex. It is men
who initiate sex (eg. figures 1 and 2), and the man who is 'on top' (eg. figure 3). Rather than acting
on their desire, women enforce sexual protection (eg. figures 1, and 4 - by refusing sex without a
condom). Images of men engaged in contact-sport and competition contrast with images of
women engaged in non-competitive exercise (eg. figures 5 and 6 - women exercise, men play
football). Women are portrayed as looking passive more often than men.
3.3
The type of sexual knowledge attributed to men and women via their action also differs. Women
are shown knowing what will happen in a medical context, they inform and reassure men, women
are the 'sex experts', the agony aunts and the health professionals (eg. figures 7, 8, and 9). Men are
shown to possess self-knowledge about sex. For example, compare the female character in the
leaflet Guide To Healthy Sex (figure 10) with the male character (figure 11). (Each character is
shown standing in front of a diagram of the male/female sexual and reproductive organs). She
does not relate the diagram of the female body to herself - she looks out at the reader, her eyes
closed, smiling, her finger to her mouth in a coy expression. In contrast, the male character relates
the information in the diagram to himself suggesting he knows he may have a genito-urinary
infection. The facade of male knowledge is, however, challenged in some leaflets and posters (eg.
figure 12, an image of a young man with the question 'why do we men pretend to know all the
answers?').
3.4
The objects of male and female action differ and women are more frequently the object of an
action or look than men. The objects of the female actors' action can be characterized as risk
reducers (eg. condoms, information booklets, and a prescription pad). In contrast, the objects of
the male actors' action can, with the exception of condoms, be described as risk enhancers (eg.
motorbike, sports car, and contact sport).

Symbols and Props


3.5
Sports equipment and settings, and sporting metaphors are used to signal competitiveness between
men, as a signifier of their heterosexuality (eg. figures 6, 2, 13 and 14). The car and the motorbike
shown in the posters, Explore The Possibilities (figure 15), and, Make All The Right Moves (figure
16), confer masculinity on the men in the posters. Both fast cars and motorbikes are potent cultural
symbols of male virility and sexual prowess in western industrial society. Books are used to
signify the participant's general sexual knowledge (eg. figures 7, and 8, which show female
professionals with books) or their private knowledge (figure 17, which shows a man reading his
diary). Dark glasses and hats are used to represent the participants' shame and desire for
anonymity in relation to sexually transmitted infections and HIV (eg. figure 18).

The Settings

3.6
Analysis of the setting, the sexual health subject addressed, and the action in the leaflets and
posters indicates that the setting of an image has an information function. In the sample the setting
of an image is associated with the level of male sexual control and indicates whether or not sex has
taken place. The settings in the images indicate that women and men are represented as having
control of different sexual domains. Women are represented in the images as possessing sexual
control in the home/domestic settings (eg. figures 3, 19, and 20), in social (public) venues (eg.
figure 1), in medical settings (eg. figures 7 and 8), and in 'nature'- outdoors with grass and trees
(eg. figures 21 and 22). Men are depicted as having sexual control in the urban (outdoor)
environment (eg. figures 15 and 16). Men on the street are represented as sexually dangerous, but
once in domestic settings they are shown to relinquish control to women (although this also
requires women to relinquish some of the control they have in social settings).

The Use of Diagrams


3.7
The elements that are represented as relevant to the female and male sexual and reproductive
organs (that is, the parts that are labelled and/or shown in the diagrams) vary depending on the
topic of the leaflet (figures 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33). The inclusion or exclusion of
parts or labels of the male and female sexual and reproductive organs encodes the producer's view
of the function of sex and acceptable sexual activity. The images suggest that outside of the
context of sexual disease the anus is either sexually irrelevant (as it is not shown) or taboo (it is
shown but not named). The anus and the rectum are represented as a part of the body where men
or women can get a genito-urinary infection rather than sexual pleasure. The diagrams in the
leaflets promote the norms of heterosexual sex. The diagrams (figures 31 and 32) represent female
sexuality as a hidden, internal process defined by a woman's reproductive capability. The entrance
to the vagina is absent or obscured, the clitoris and the labia are excluded in both diagrams of the
female sexual and reproductive organs. (In the diagrams of the male sexual and reproductive
organs the external male organs are included). There is some evidence (in the number of parts
labelled) to suggest that men's sexual and reproductive organs are represented in the diagrams as
more simple and straightforward than women's.

The Appearances of Represented Participants and their Roles


3.8
Women with long, untied or unbrushed hair in the sample of images are represented as sexually
unrestrained (eg. figures 15, 19, and 34) while the images of women with short-mid length hair, or
tied back hair in the sample are of women in control and sexually restrained (eg. figures 1, and 3,
and the Doctor in figure 7). On the few occasions where men are shown with un-greased hair they
are depicted as in a state of panic, or under the influence of alcohol (eg. the man seated on the
right of figure 1). In general, representations of messiness visually demonstrate a lack of sexual
restraint, and orderliness is associated with sexual control (eg. compare the visual message of
sexual control and messiness in figures 20 and 34).
3.9
There is little nudity within the images in the sample, but where nudity is shown it is an indicator
that sex is being planned, or about to occur. The amount of skin revealed by the represented
participants is a visual indicator of sexual availability. For example, compare the image of the
woman in figure 1 and figure 3: the tight dress worn by the woman in figure 3 exposes the
contours of her body, her shoulders, and her neck and face; the dress and hairstyle of the woman
in figure 1 is less revealing, a scarf covers her neck, and her hair covers her face.
3.10
Overall, masculinity is visually represented as a range of identities within the images. The
dichotomy between gladiator and wimp is apparent as two extremes on a continuum of
masculinity (visualized in figure 35, which shows a line of men of different ethnicity, height,

weight, and age, with a strong man at one end, and a wimpish man at the other), and the dominant
representation of men in the sample is conventional hegemonic masculinity. Men are shown in
competition in relation to masculinity and sexual prowess (eg. figures 2, 13, and 36). The
representation of women in the sample of images confers heterosexuality upon the men in the
images and signals the need to protect oneself from potential sexual disease.
3.11
In some images, props are used to highlight men's individuality. In the poster, Make All The Right
Moves (figure 16), for example, the upright motorbike and open face helmet convey a strong sense
of individuality - the man in the poster is not riding an average bike, he is not an average man. On
the occasions when men are shown together in the leaflets they are usually shown as a collection
of individuals, separated by the framing of the image or the lack of contact between them (as in
figures 14 and 37). Men's individuality is emphasized by the difference in their clothes, age,
height, and ethnicity (eg. figure 14, 36, and 37). The symmetry of the men in these images
suggests that while being an individual is a defining feature of being a man, masculinity is a
unifying experience which supersedes individual difference.
3.12
The images prescribe a range of roles for men and women in the sample - categorized by their
appearance and action. The representations of men can be classified into six types of masculinity
along this continuum from Gladiator to Wimp: Gladiator - Retro Man (figure 39) he is sexually
active and in control; Protector (figure 40); Clown or Buffoon (figure 41); Romantic New Man
(figure 42) he strives for equality in his relationships; Gay man (figure 43); and Wimp (figure 44)
he is 'other', weak and passive. The representations of women range along a continuum from
Vamp to Victim: Vamp (figure 45); Reassurer (figure 46); Guardian of Sexual Morality (figure
47); Mother; Clown (figure 48); Victim (figure 49).
3.13
The dominant roles women are cast in by the images emphasis care and guardianship. The roles of
men emphasize sexual action and a continuum of sexual success or failure. It is interesting to note
that while the female vamp is the equivalent to the male gladiator, the role of the victim remains
an exclusively female domain.
3.14
Men are usually represented in the images on their own or with a woman. Women's absence from
images may define men as fathers, and young men as pre-pubescent, or gay. Women are visually
excluded from some aspects of male sexuality: images of fatherhood, men's promiscuity, male
friendship, male puberty, testicular cancer, gay sexuality, and the experience of 'being a man'.
Women are absent from the majority of the leaflets and posters aimed specifically at men. The
exception is three posters and leaflets on safer sex and condom use for heterosexual young men (in
figures 15, 16, 50, and 51). These images objectify men, and male bodies, to an extent only seen in
the leaflet for young Gay men - the male models are the most salient element of the images and
the lighting emphasizes their bodies. The presence of women in these images makes their
consumption by heterosexual men acceptable and refutes the potential suggestion of gay sexuality
in the process of men looking at other men. The depiction of heterosexual men together in the
absence of women demands a context to ensure their relationship is not understood as gay.
Sporting and educational settings are used in these images to establish competitiveness between
the men as a signifier of their heterosexuality.

Composition
3.15
Analysis of the composition of the images, as outlined in Kress and Van Leeuwen's method, based
on the value conferred on left and right, top and bottom, with conformity to the left to right, top to
bottom reading of Roman script reveals the traditional and new qualities associated with male and
female sexuality within the images.
3.16
The images present traditional male sexuality as predatory and promiscuous (figures 1, 2, 11, and
17), protective (figures 9, 49, and 50), penis-centred, competitive (eg. as in figures 6, and 13, and

as suggested by the sporting setting in figure 2) and hierarchical (figure 35). The images in the
sample represent other qualities as non-traditional and new to male sexuality, including emotional
involvement (eg. figure 52, which shows a man in the role of a father), and taking responsibility
(eg. figure 2, buying condoms). In contrast, traditional female sexuality is represented as sexually
unknowing, anxious and passive (eg. figures 3, 10, and 15), and responsible (eg. figures 4, and 7).
The qualities that are represented in the images as new to female sexuality (that is, the action
depicted on the right side of the vertically polarized images in the sample) include sexual planning
and the rebuttal of the notion of romantic love as unplanned (eg. figures 3, 15, and 16), being
assertive (eg. figures 1 and 4), and being sexually active (eg. figures 19, and 50). That is, analysis
of the images' composition shows that the images present male and female sexuality as the
antithesis of one another.
3.17
Where a condom is the product being promoted in an image (eg. figures 15 and 16) the male
reader is given the promise of financial and sexual success (a motorbike, a convertible sports car,
or a sexually willing partner). In the poster, She Looks Safe, (figure 19) which shows a couple in
an apartment about to enter the bedroom, alcohol is represented as the reality and the promise of
the product is a lack of sexual restraint, leading to sexual danger. In the poster, Have You Told A
Mate I like You, (figure 53) the promise of the statement is displayed in the image of the two men:
a close non-sexual relationship which focuses on a university magazine. The writing itself is the
product - that is, the ability to express one's emotions to a friend. In this image expressing one's
emotions to a friend is linked with educational opportunity and the possibility of transcending
one's social class: education is presented as an alternative to fatherhood as a route to status. In
figure 36, which shows a row of naked men all with thought bubbles, the composition polarization
between the thought bubbles at the top and the nudity of the young men at the bottom of the image
presents men's expression of their concerns as an ideal and their focus on the physical as the
reality of male sexuality. Ideals of male and female sexuality are also revealed when the
composition of these images is analyzed. In figure 1, which depicts a couple in a night club, a
horizontal line which cuts across the man and the woman's waist and polarizes the image into top
and bottom is created by the contrast between the colour of the walls and the floor and the line of
the seat in the background. The top section of the image represents the ideal of sexual
relationships - above the waist. The bottom section of the image represents the reality- that sex is a
physical affair focused below the waist.
3.18
The composition of the cover of the leaflet, What Happens Now, (figure 54) which shows a central
image of a naked man circled by four images of men, combines vertical and horizontal
polarization with a circular composition. The analysis of the vertical and horizontal polarization in
the image and the central elements of the composition reveals the representation of puberty as a
cycle revolving around man's biology: the arrangement of the figures around the central figure, the
clock-wise direction of their gazes; and the symbolic change from shorts, through to plus-fours, to
the symbolic pinnacle of male adulthood - full length trousers. In triptych compositions the
mediator in these images (the central nucleus) is either a form of contraception (condom or oral
contraceptive pills) or a woman (eg. figures 1, 3, 9, 15, 16, and 19). That is, women or medical
intervention mediate male sexuality.

Interactive Meanings
3.19
The contact between the represented participant and the viewer in the images is created by the
participant's gaze - a direct look is read as a demand, an indirect look is read as an offer. In the
sample of leaflets, contact between the viewer and the images of the women is more often an offer
than a demand. That is, men are visually represented as more demanding than women. In everyday
interaction the norms of social relations determine the distance we keep from one another and this
is visually created by the length of the shot. The relationship between the viewer and the
represented men is presented as more intimate (close-up) when he is accompanied by a woman.
Perhaps the presence of women in images enables a more intimate portrayal of men as she

resolves the problematic issue of men looking at other men. The relationship between the viewer
and represented men is more frequently represented as impersonal (distant) than the relationship
with both men and women.
3.20
The horizontal angle between the represented participants and the viewer indicates the level of
involvement between them. Within the sample a frontal angle is used to increase audience
identification and involvement with represented participants who reduce sexual risk (eg. figures 2,
15, and the last frame of figure 9). The images in the sample which present men as detached from
the viewer depict men as 'different' from the hegemonic norm. In several images an oblique
horizontal angle is used to depict Black men as the 'other' in relation to White men (eg. the Black
man in figure 6 is shown at an oblique angle and the White man is shown from a frontal angle; and
the Black men in figure 53 are shown at an oblique angle compared with the frontal angle used to
depict the White men in figure 38). Detachment is also used to illustrate failure to acquire the
norms of hegemonic masculinity. For example, in figure 36 the oblique angle to the boy on the far
right of the continuum emphasizes the difference between him and the other boys (and the viewer)
- confirmed by his unbalanced posture, 'limp wrist', and glasses.
3.21
A low vertical angle is used to confer power on the represented participant - the viewer is
positioned as looking up to the subject. Men are represented as powerful in the role as fathers,
when in education, their pretence of knowledge, their sexual planning, and their lack of sexual
restraint (eg. the men in figures 2, 12, 19, 50, 51, and 52).

The Conceptions of Masculinity Revealed in the Images


4.1
The analysis reveals the concepts of gender and male sexuality encoded in the sample of images. I
shall now outline how the structures of the images[3] combine to present a polarized representation
of male and female sexuality informed by conventional concepts of sexuality and gender. Within
the sample of leaflets and posters I also compare the construction of male sexuality in the
materials aimed exclusively at young men with those aimed at young people in general.
4.2
The analysis of the visual structures of the sample of images shows that male sexuality is visually
located in the physical aspects of sex. The use of symbolic attributes (eg. fast cars and contact
sport) in the sample convey an association between male sexuality and physicality. The men's
action processes in the images focus on sexual technique and competence. The analysis of the
analytical processes in the representation of male sexual and reproductive organs suggests that
male sexuality may be presented as less complex than female sexuality. Finally, the analysis of
composition meanings and medium highlights the central role of the male body/biology in some of
the images.
4.3
Several of the images use setting, symbolic attributes, and the framing of the images to visually
assert that competitiveness is a traditional aspect of male sexuality. The individuality of men is
emphasized in the sample of images in a number of ways. For example, the difference in men's
appearances is highlighted, and the framing and composition of the images are combined to
highlight men's autonomy.
4.4
The findings of the analysis show that the images aimed at young people in general associate
sexual irresponsibility with male sexuality. The action processes in these images indicate that male
action focuses on sexual risk and female action focuses on sexual protection. The settings of these
images function to represent heterosexual men as sexually dangerous outside of a domestic setting
(which signifies a monogamous relationship). Analysis of the action processes in the images, the
roles men and women occupy, the symbolic attributes in the images, and the composition of the
images, combine to present men as sexually self-aware and women as sexually innocent, and men

as less responsible than women. Analysis of these structures also reveals that they emphasize the
ability of women to ignore their sexual desire and encode the message that male sexuality is more
potent than female sexuality. The visual structures of the images display the context for sex as
either heterosexual reproduction or sexual infection is a dominant theme in the majority of the
leaflets.
4.5
Overall, the representation of male and female sexuality in the cartoon strips are informed by the
same concepts as the other leaflets in the sample. However, the cartoon strips differ from the other
leaflets in three ways. Firstly, men are portrayed as possessing sexual health information and
occupying roles as health professionals. Secondly, the language used in the leaflets to describe sex
and physiology is more colloquial. Finally, the use of humour in cartoon strips addresses young
men's fears about sexual competence and lack of sexual knowledge.
4.6
In what follows the main concepts informing the leaflets and posters in the sample are discussed in
detail. The differences between the leaflets aimed exclusively at young men and those aimed at
young people in general are also outlined.

Male and Female Sexuality are Opposites


4.7
Male and female sexuality are represented in the leaflets as different in every respect. The analysis
of the action processes and the settings in the images show that men and women are presented in
the images as having different sexual concerns and sexual goals, and controlling different sexual
situations. The types of representations in the images, the roles men and women occupy, the action
processes, and the symbolic attributes depicted in the images represent male and female sexuality
as polarized: men take risks, women protect; men are sexually knowing, women are sexually
innocent; men are simple, women are complex; men are physical, women are emotional; men are
irresponsible, women are responsible.
4.8
My earlier discussion of the literature demonstrates that certain values are commonly associated
with male and female sexuality. The findings of the analysis of the composition meaning of the
images show that this is also true of the sample of images. The analysis of the images' composition
reveals that traditional male sexuality is represented in the images as predatory and promiscuous,
protective of female partners and children, and competitive with other men. In contrast, the
analysis presents an association between traditional female sexuality and emotional involvement,
sexual anxiety or ill-health. In other words, the qualities associated with female sexuality are the
antithesis of male sexuality, and vice- versa.
4.9
In the leaflets for young men in which male sexuality is not defined in opposition to female
sexuality (that is, those in which women are visually absent) the analysis of the action processes
and roles men occupy represent men as more caring and emotional than in the other leaflets. This
suggests that the absence of women enables a visual redefinition of masculinity.

Male Sexuality Centres on Sexual Competence


4.10
The findings of the analysis of the action processes, the symbolic attributes, and the composition
of the images in the sample supports the assertion that dominant conceptions of male sexuality
centre on sexual competence, the penis, erection and orgasm (Tiefer, 1993). Analysis of the
composition of several images shows the central role of biology and sexual competence in the
representation of male sexuality. In several images the action processes and the setting combine to
portray sex as a skill or technique to be acquired by men - comparable to driving a car. Other
leaflets use action processes, settings, and symbolic attributes to draw a parallel between sex and
sport. The physical nature of male sexuality is also conveyed in the goals of men's action

processes - for example, when men and women are embracing, where women's sexual goal is
cerebral (above the neck), men's sexual aim is physical (below the waist). These structures in the
images work together to suggest that for men sex is primarily a physical activity rather than an
emotional experience.
4.11
The images in the majority of the leaflets and posters aimed at young men do not acknowledge
men's fears of sexual incompetence regarding condom use. Instead these leaflets and posters
visually focus on male sexual competence, and associate condom use with sexual success.
However, a few images, particularly the cartoon strips, do visually acknowledge young men's
sexual anxieties.

Male Sexuality is Competitive


4.12
The findings of the analysis demonstrate how the images use action processes, symbolic attributes,
settings, and composition and framing, to present male sexuality as competitive. Images of sexual
competitiveness between men are explicit in the settings, symbols and action processes in several
of the leaflets aimed at young men. Competition between men is embodied in the images of men
engaged in sport or in a sporting setting. The analysis of the composition of the images reveals
their presentation of competitive sport as a traditional aspect of masculinity.
4.13
Men are rarely shown together in the images unaccompanied by women. When men are shown
together the framing and composition of the image underlines their individuality, or a setting is
used to ensure that the relationship is not understood as sexual (unless that is the intention). The
roles men occupy in the images, the setting, the action processes and the objects of men's action
are used to convey competitiveness between men in the images to legitimize the depiction of men
together: competitiveness confirms that men are engaged against each other, rather than with each
other. The analysis of these structures shows that the visual display of intimacy between
heterosexual men is restricted to designated social contexts: sport, business, and family groups.
Men shown together outside of these contexts are Gay.
4.14
In the leaflets aimed at young people in general, men are rarely shown together and the role of
sport and competition to confirm heterosexuality is replaced by the presence of a woman.

Male Sexual Responsibility


4.15
The leaflets aimed at young men and those aimed at young people in general are informed by
different concepts of male sexual responsibility.
4.16
The findings of the analysis of the images in the leaflets for young people in the previous section
concur with the suggestion in the literature that women are viewed as the responsible guardians of
sexual morality (Waldby et al, 1990). Analysis of the composition and action processes of the
images reveals that promiscuity and risk taking are represented as traditional masculine traits. In
contrast, the action processes in the images present women as having a central role in sexual
protection. The analysis of the action processes and symbolic attributes in the images represent
women as possessing and sharing sexual health knowledge (eg. the public display of books) and
men as withholding knowledge (eg. the possession of private diaries detailing sexual liaisons).
Analysis of the action processes, the roles men and women occupy, settings, and the composition
of the images, visually associates men's lack of responsibility for contraception (and women's need
to enforce condom use) with displays of conventional masculinity (such as aggression or sexual
prowess) as suggested in the literature (Marsiglio, 1993). Analysis of the composition of these
images suggests that sexual responsibility is not a traditional male quality. The association

between condom use and embarrassment is acknowledged in the action processes of images of the
leaflets and the roles in which men and women are cast.
4.17
Within the leaflets and posters for young men, male sexuality is portrayed via the action processes,
the representation of the actors, the choice of symbolic attributes, and the composition of the
images as adventurous and exploratory. However, in contrast to the materials aimed at young
people in general, men are also depicted as sexually responsible. Whilst the link between
masculinity and risk suggested in the literature is apparent in the images, the use of cultural
symbols of risk (such as fast cars and bikes) in some of the images confers masculinity by a nonsexual risk. These images confound Kimmel's (1987) accusation that HIV prevention messages
suggest that men stop having sex like men (ie. taking risks). The theory that men with long-term
education or employment goals are less likely to view becoming a father as enhancing their
masculinity and status is also made apparent in the action processes, setting, and composition of
one poster in the sample (figure 53), Have You Told A Mate I Like You (B Team) (Marsiglio and
Sheham, 1993).
4.18
The type of representation, the composition, the actors and action processes in the image of the
leaflet, A Man's Guide To Contraception (figure 17), represent women as responsible throughout
history for contraception. This image contradicts men's historical responsibility for contraception
(Seidler, 1992).

Men are Individuals


4.19
The wide range of activities which men are shown to undertake, the focus on the differences in
men's appearances, the choice of symbolic attributes (eg. an open face motorbike helmet), the
range of roles men occupy, and the medium, framing and composition of images present men as
autonomous individuals with a range of masculine identities. The action and roles of men and
women identified earlier confirm that images prescribe men and women particular roles (as
proposed by Millum, 1975). The roles men are cast in include: Gladiator; Protector; Competitor;
Clown; Romantic New Man; Emotional Man; Gay Man; Wimp. The simple dichotomy between
gladiator and wimp is however not apparent, although it does provide the two extremes at either
end of a continuum of masculinity.
4.20
Although the action processes, the settings, the representation of men's appearances and symbolic
attributes in the images combine to convey the individuality of men, the leaflets aimed at young
men also use composition and framing to represent men as individual members with a collective
identity - confirming that individuality is itself a part of the construction of masculinity (Morgan,
1992).

Masculinity is Hierarchical
4.21
Despite the range of masculine identities shown in the sample of images, and the use of setting,
composition, the roles men occupy and their action processes, the majority of representations of
men in the images conform to Brannon's rules of hegemonic masculinity: to avoid feminine
behaviour; to focus on success; to be emotionally distant; and to take risks (Kimmel, 1987). The
analysis of composition and interactive meaning in the images also shows that White men, Black
men, and Gay men are represented differently in the images. The relationship between White men,
Black men, and Gay men reflects the hypotheses in the literature of a hierarchy of masculinity: in
the images White men are represented as the bearers of hegemonic masculinity whilst Black and
Gay men are assigned to subordinate (deviant) masculinities.
4.22

The analysis of the action processes and settings of the images provides some evidence to support
the assertion (Jackson, 1994) that Black male sexuality is socially constructed as more predatory
(deviant) than White male sexuality. However there are few images of Black men and Gay men in
the sample and more images would be required to test this hypothesis.

Women are the Guardians of Sexual Morality


4.23
The findings of the analysis of the action processes, the roles men and women occupy, the
settings, and the composition of the images in the leaflets aimed at young people in general
suggest that men's sexuality needs to be controlled by women. Women are depicted in many of
these images as sexual mediators and the guardians of sexual morality. Analysis of the action
processes in the images shows that women assess, veto or acquiesce to sex and have a central role
in enforcing sexual protection. In these images the role of the sexual health expert is filled in the
main by women, and women offer men reassurance. The analysis of the settings in the images
shows women to have control of domestic, social, and medical domains in relation to sex.
Analysis of the composition of the images also shows that women are physically placed in the
images to guard sexual boundaries and mediate the transition from social to personal space. The
findings of the analysis confirm that the images reflect current discourses which treat women as
the victims of male sexual desire and sex as a male activity (Holland et al, 1993).
4.24
Women are not cast as the guardians of sexual morality in the leaflets and posters aimed
specifically at young men, but they are represented, via action processes, as the assessors of male
sexual competence.

Men are Sexually Knowing and Women are Sexually Innocent


4.25
The analysis of the images supports the conclusion that the cultural expectation that men know
about sex informs the images in the sample.
4.26
The analysis of the action processes, the choice of symbolic attributes (eg. books), the role of
women as sexual victims and the composition of the images in the leaflets and posters targeted at
young people in general present men as sexually self-knowing. The roles women occupy in the
majority of the leaflets (eg. the guardian of sexual morality, the reassurer, the mother, and the
victim) represent women as possessing knowledge of sexual health services but not necessarily
possessing sexual self-awareness. The analysis of the composition of the images reveals the
images portrayal of female sexuality as passive and sexually anxious/unknowing. In contrast the
analysis of the action processes and the roles men occupy in the images represent men as
possessing sexual self knowledge but lacking information about medical services. The roles
women occupy, the action processes, and the use of settings in the images addresses the perceived
difficulty men experience in attending sexual health services (Kimmel, 1995). The representation
of men in the majority of images, however, fails to acknowledge the level of young men's sexual
anxiety identified in the literature (Hall, 1991).
4.27
The analysis of the composition, action processes, roles of actors, and symbolic attributes in the
majority of the images of the leaflets and posters aimed at young men present young men as
knowing and sexually competent, but do not present women as sexually innocent - women are
presented via these structures as sexually compliant. Analysis of the action processes and roles
men occupy in several of the images aimed at young men suggests a representation of young
men's sexual talk as a facade to maintain control.

The Context for Sex is Reproduction or Disease

4.28
The analysis of the types of representations, the action processes, the symbolic attributes (eg.
photographs of children, or fruit bowls), and the settings in the images in the leaflets (with the
exception of the leaflet for young Gay men) show that they promote heterosexuality and
heterosexual norms of sex. The action processes and analytical processes in the images focus on
condom use and penetrative vaginal sex - only penetrative vaginal sex is depicted as a sexual
possibility outside of the context of infection. In the analytical processes sex is represented in the
context of sexual reproduction rather than pleasure and anal sex is taboo - despite the fact that anal
sex is a part of sexual activity for some heterosexuals, particularly between young people aged 20
to 24 years (John, 1993). Anal sex is made visually explicit only in relation to sexually transmitted
infections. The analysis of the settings in the images reveal that they suggest two alternative
outcomes of sexual relations: a monogamous relationship or a sexually transmitted infection.

Conclusion
5.1
In general, the images in sexual health leaflets and posters aimed at young people and young men
present a stereotyped image of male and female sexuality and are informed by conventional
concepts of sexuality and gender. The images reinforce heterosexual norms and values and present
heterosexual reproduction or sexual infection as the context in which sex occurs.
5.2
The images represent male and female sexuality as opposites with different sexual concerns and
control of discrete sexual domains: sexual competence and the physical aspects of sex are
represented as male concerns; sexual safety and the emotional aspects of sex are depicted as
female concerns. The social construction of male and female sexuality in the images suggests that
male sexuality is less complex than female sexuality. Male sexual desire is portrayed in the images
as more potent than women's. Men are represented as sexually irresponsible, in contrast, women
are represented as the guardians of sexual morality.
5.3
Male sexuality is presented as existing on a continuum from gladiator to wimp and the images in
the leaflets and posters prescribe a range of gender roles. Most of the images aimed at young
people in general cast men and women in traditional gender roles and sexual relationships: the
promiscuous gladiator with the female victim; the protector and the rescued; the predatory male
with the female guardian of sexual morality. Some images (primarily in the leaflets and posters
aimed exclusively at young men) suggest an alternative to these stereotypes: Romantic Man; Gay
Man; the sexually knowing and active woman. In general the images in the sample reinforce
societal expectations in relation to sexuality and gender roles: that men are sexually knowing,
promiscuous, and more emotionally distant than women.
5.4
Nonetheless, the images in leaflets and posters targeted at young men challenge some societal
norms concerning masculinity and male sexuality. These images present men as sexually
responsible and do not cast women as the enforcer of sexual morality to the same extent as the
leaflets aimed at young people in general. The images aimed at young men treat male sexuality as
a more complex phenomenon and propose that they have a greater sense of sexual control than is
suggested by the other leaflets. Some of these images challenge the expectation that men know
about sex and that women are sexually innocent by acknowledging young men's anxiety about
sexual competence and women's sexual knowledge. The leaflets targeted at young men represent
men as more caring and expressive than those aimed at young people in general. These challenges
to conventional representations of male sexuality notwithstanding, male sexuality is presented as
competitive, and men are displayed as autonomous individuals - although several leaflets also
assert the collective experience of being a man. These images also present masculinity as a
hierarchy, prescribe constraining masculine and feminine roles and by and large reinforce the rules
of hegemonic masculinity.

5.5
The representation of young men in the images of sexual health promotion materials for young
people in general as sexually irresponsible and in need of a woman's control offers a negative
visual message about male sexuality and presents an unrealistic image of female sexuality. The
images of sexual health leaflets and posters continue to visualize young women as the decision
makers with the power to say 'yes' or 'no' to sex, and also deny the existence of female sexual
desire. The traditional reliance of health promotion materials on young women to mediate HIV
prevention and sexual health messages to young men assumes a type of relationship and a degree
of trust and female power which rarely exists for young people. This approach to sexual health
promotion ignores the cultural expectation that women be sexually passive. It also fails to
acknowledge that sexual coercion is a common feature of young women's early sexual experiences
(Danielson, 1990).
5.6
This study suggests that images in sexual health leaflets present male sexuality and masculinity in
ways that would be unacceptable in words to young men and sexual health professionals. The
analysis demonstrates the need for professionals to consider the visual messages about sexuality in
the leaflets that they use with young people. When sexual health leaflets are used to reinforce the
information professionals give to young people it is important that the images in the leaflets do not
contradict or undermine the verbal or written message. When posters are used to create a
welcoming environment for young men this will only be successful if professionals ensure the
visual messages do not exclude or ridicule young men. When professionals use leaflets and posters
to trigger discussion and challenge young men's views of what it is to be a man, it is necessary to
ensure the images do not present a narrow definition of masculinity. In general, the professionals
who produce and use sexual health leaflets need to be more aware of the ways in which the
appearance of women and men represented in images, the use of props, settings, action, and
composition, can be read to produce messages about sexuality to produce and select leaflets with
appropriate visual messages. In particular, professionals need to be aware of the ways in which
images confer and deny access to specific roles and scripts on the basis of gender and promote
narrow and constraining versions of what it is to be a man or a woman. In order for young men to
identify with s