Three out of four (73%) U.S. adults think sexually provocative magazine headlines at supermarket checkouts are ‘inappropriate’

NCOSE Press Statement logo


NEW YORK (September 23, 1999) – While the covers of women’s magazines like CosmopolitanGlamourMademoiselle, and Redbook brazenly splash lurid cover headlines at supermarket checkout counters, a large majority of Americans – and an even larger majority of American women – say these headlines are “inappropriate,” according to a new poll.

And, by almost a 2-to-1 majority, Americans say they favor supermarkets covering up these magazines or not displaying them at checkout counters.

These figures come from a new Wirthlin Worldwide poll commissioned by Morality in Media, a national interfaith organization, based in New York City, which promotes decency standards in the media.

Robert W. Peters, President of Morality in Media, commented, “Supermarket executives should understand that lurid headlines on the front covers of ‘Cosmopolitan,’ ‘Mademoiselle,’ ‘Glamour,’ ‘Redbook,’ and similar magazines are offensive to the large majority of their customers.

“These executives should also understand that it is irresponsible to openly display at checkout counters, where children and vulnerable adolescents cannot help but see them, trashy magazine covers that so blatantly violate common standards of decency and morality,” Mr. Peters added.

On Sept. 17, Mr. Peters wrote a letter to more than 350 supermarket CEOs, the third such letter he has written in recent months. Enclosed with the letter was a sheet containing examples of recent cover headlines from Cosmopolitan magazine, including “Your Man Unzipped: How to Be A Genius With His You Know What” (August 1999); and “Sex Tricks He’s Never Seen Before: The Outrageous ‘Rock’ Technique and 21 Other Moves That Will Make His Thighs Go Up in Flames” (July 1999), as well as brief excerpts from the porno-style articles highlighted by the headlines. A copy of the sheet is available from Morality in Media.

In its report on the survey, Wirthlin wrote, “The results from this survey clearly show that Americans find lurid magazine headlines inappropriate and would favor them being covered up in some manner.” The Wirthlin telephone poll of 1006 Americans aged 18 and over was taken Sept. 10 – 13. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.1% at a 95% confidence level.

When asked about the appropriateness of lurid and sexually provocative headlines on magazines such asCosmopolitanMademoiselle, and Glamour, fully 73% of respondents say that such headlines are inappropriate, while just 22% feel they are appropriate. Wirthlin also reported:

Fully 81% of women say such headlines are inappropriate, while only 14% say they’re appropriate. Seventy-nine percent of respondents with at least one child call the headlines inappropriate, while only 17% say they’re appropriate.

A second question asked respondents whether or not they would favor or oppose a policy of covering up these headlines, or not displaying these magazines near checkout counters. Results show that 60% of all Americans would favor such a policy, while 35% would oppose it.

Again, women strongly favor covering these headlines. Sixty-four percent of women favor such a policy, while 30% oppose. Sixty-five percent of respondents with children favor such a policy, while 30% oppose such a policy.

Text of third letter from MIM President Robert Peters to supermarket CEOs

September 17, 1999

Dear [Supermarket CEO]:

Would you be outraged if your stores, every month, were displaying at checkout counters a magazine featuring articles promoting, often in explicit detail, doggy-style sex, oral sex, public sex, bondage, use of sex toys,…?

On the enclosed page, you can read excerpts from feature articles in recent issues of Cosmopolitan. This is vulgar, often graphic material. It should shock you and hopefully anger you enough to do something about it.

Perhaps you did not realize that such material is in every issue of Cosmo and in issues of several other women’s magazines.

Furthermore, this lewd material is brazenly promoted in bold headlines on the front covers of these magazines, which are seen by children and vulnerable adolescents as they pass through supermarket checkout counters.

On behalf of every parent with minor children (as well as every other adult who prefers that sex not be vulgarized and sensationalized at supermarket checkouts), I beseech you to consider whether it is a responsible policy to openly display at checkout counters magazines that so blatantly violate common standards of decency and morality.

I will greatly appreciate hearing your reaction to the enclosed page.


Robert Peters

Author: Patrick McGrath   09/23/1999

The Numbers


NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.


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