Sex Sells: A Content Analysis of Changes in
Cosmopolitan’s Sex-Related Headlines Over 30 Years


Anna Cave

Strategic Communications and Media Analytics, Elon University

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements in an undergraduate senior capstone course in communications


Sexual advice articles are a major content feature in women’s magazines. This content analysis examines whether Cosmopolitan magazine has changed the way it frames sex by analyzing the sexual focus of cover headlines through the promotion of female or male pleasure. The headlines on the covers of Cosmopolitan in 1979, 1999, and 2019 were used to track changes over time. There was a shift toward male pleasure on the covers of the 1999 issues before moving away from the male focus in 2019. The adjustments over time in sexual focus on the cover headlines of Cosmopolitan aligned with significant social and cultural movements during the period.

Keywords: women’s magazines, Cosmopolitan, sexual advice, content analysis, feminism, framing theory

1. Introduction

Cosmopolitan magazine’s first issue hit the stands in March 1886, though at the time the magazine ran under the title The Cosmopolitan. The magazine was always primarily marketed toward women but served as a general interest magazine until the 1960s when Helen Gurley Brown became editor-in-chief and changed the publication’s target reader from obedient housewife to single & fabulous (Fox, 2012). She took the magazine from a circulation of less than 800,000 to around three million and made it a staple for American and international women alike (Benjamin, 2007).

Brown’s involvement in Cosmopolitan did not happen by accident. Before entering the industry, Brown wrote a best-selling novel titled Sex and the Single Girl in 1962. Though the book was fictional, the messages of independence and guilt-free sexual freedom resonated with the female audience. A positive outpouring of thank-you notes and requests for personal advice from readers encouraged Brown to explore media where she could reach more women. After facing several rejections from publishing companies on her magazine proposal inspired by her book, she found success at Hearst. The company was planning to discontinue Cosmopolitan but allowed Brown to reinvent the title. The first issue under Brown’s leadership was published in September 1965 with this cover line referencing birth control: “The new pill that makes women more responsive.” From there, the magazine became known for its loyal readership and willingness to cover taboo topics (Benjamin, 2007).

While the magazine was forward-thinking for the time, content continued to evolve to empower women, with an emphasis on improving their sex lives. This article will focus on the headlines related to sex on Cosmopolitan covers in America. Magazines from each month during the years 1979, 1999, and 2019 will be compared to see how headlines related to sex have changed over a 30-year period.

Framing will be used as the theory for this content analysis of magazine covers. Framing involves “selecting and highlighting some facets of events or issues, and making connections among them so as to promote a particular interpretation, evaluation, and/or solution” (Rosenberry and Vicker, 2022). This article aims to observe how cover headlines regarding sex evolve over time, and how they may have been influenced by the societal ideologies present in each time frame.

This study will offer insight into how Cosmopolitan chooses to prioritize pleasure on its covers as it pertains to gender identity. The study will also showcase how Cosmopolitan’s framing of sex has changed over time. While several studies have shown how sex in media impacts individuals and their choices, there is limited information when it comes to tracking these changes over time from a content level. This study offers insight into how portrayals can shift and be reframed over time through one publication. Observing the changes in this vanguard women’s magazine that has a print audience of 10.2 million (Cosmopolitan Media Kit, 2022) and is still read by new generations of young women is important because women’s magazines have been proven to influence their audience when it comes to the societal construction of what it means to be a woman (Durham, 1996).

II. Literature Review

Multiple research studies have been conducted that relate to this topic. While past studies have not tracked change over time in the cover lines of Cosmopolitan magazine, several scholars have developed similar frameworks that act as a foundation.

The Appeal of Sexual Advice in Women’s Magazines

Advice related to sex and love is “prominent and recurring” within women’s magazines. Snappy titles related to these themes invite readers to purchase and read the magazine, intertwining female sexual desire with capitalism (Durham, 1996, p. 18). This type of advice often takes on an instructional tone that leads women to make choices within their own sexual relationships. Though sexual material in women’s magazines began in the twentieth century, women’s magazines have used these “prescriptive, normative [and] exploratory” tones since the mid-seventeenth century (Durham, 1996, p. 18). The tone itself is successful, as proven by the domination of women’s magazines in the consumer magazine market.

A study found that women in college believe that sexual themes are central to Cosmopolitan magazine, and they enjoy reading sexual advice articles over any other content (Walker, 2016). Despite the negative connotations women’s magazines tend to receive for appearing shallow and frivolous, they have been shown to influence their readers.

Rosman found that the sensational pro-sex headlines and content popularized in Cosmopolitan are part of the reason Cosmo has the highest circulation of any Hearst magazine. The sexual and bold headlines were a staple in Helen Gurley Brown’s magazine formula and have driven newsstand sales. Though single-copy print sales (not subscriptions) have dropped from 274,833 to 123,250 from 2016 to 2018, current editor-in-chief Jessica Pels expects Cosmo to continue releasing print issues until at least 2023, potentially longer (Rosman, 2019).

Societal Criticism of Female Sexuality

While sexual advice plays a vital role in the content of women’s magazines, it has a complicated history. Women have been socially criticized for the expression of their sexuality since the third century B.C. when philosophers such as Aristotle insisted that women were unable to control themselves when it came to sexual desires (Durham, 1996). Aristotle’s proposed solution required men to supervise women, and this foundational belief carried into Western cultures and remains prominent today. Constructions of sex in Western society have often been created and dispersed by men— even second-wave feminist theories were based on models built by men (Durham, 1996).

Sexuality is not only socially constructed but socially regulated in order to enforce hierarchical patterns of dominance. Mass media is known to be used as a tool to share dominant social ideologies, and women’s magazines are no exception (Durham, 1996). These magazines reflect the current role women are expected to play in society, but they also serve as a guide as to how to socialize into that role.

Women’s Magazines and the Man

A content analysis of Seventeen magazine conducted in 1993 found that of the 104 stories analyzed, over half involved the main character relying on others to solve her problems, with almost half of the conflicts centering on relationships with boys (Durham, 1996). The framing of these stories taught the intended audience of teenage girls that heterosexual relationships should be a top priority and that they should allow others to act for them, rather than take initiative to act on what they want or work to solve problems. Though this magazine and others like it claim to be women-centered, there is a historical pattern in these publications that rest femininity on the shoulders of men (Durham, 1996).

Regarding Cosmopolitan, conflict exists because the magazine simultaneously promotes female pleasure and repressive ideas about how women can and should function in society (Gill, 2009). Gill’s study on mediated intimacy and postfeminism shared commentary on the brand:

Cosmopolitan as a global brand is constructed around the idea of the “fun fearless female” in which agency is linked to sexuality and the body, and problems are easily solved with the help of Cosmo’s “hot tips.” The ideology is built from themes about independence and taking control, transgression (“naughtiness”) in relation to sex, and pleasing men. Women are presented as fundamentally alone in the world and must hold their own by using the power their bodies and sexuality afford them. Machin and Thornborrow argue that despite Cosmopolitan’s emphasis on taking control, “the main goal of sex for the fun, fearless female remains pleasing men” (Gill, 2009, p. 348-349).

Women’s magazines have been criticized for perpetuating gender stereotypes, and one of the ways in which they do that is by using male sexuality to set the bar for “real” sexuality. Women are encouraged to “catch up” to men by matching their levels of sexual expectation and desire. Women often receive the responsibility of maintaining a healthy sexual relationship— they are expected to take charge of a man’s pleasure, though men do not seem to be responsible for female pleasure (Walker, 2016).

Women’s Magazines and the Male Gaze

Despite targeting two completely different audiences, men’s and women’s magazines often follow similar templates. Both men’s and women’s magazines include sexually charged and objectifying images of women (Berlatsky, 2013). A 2001 study of the sexualization of images in men’s and women’s magazines found that both Cosmopolitan and Playboy portray the male gaze, despite having completely different audiences. Women often fill the role of the sexual gaze, even in magazines where the target audience is heterosexual women (Krassas, Blauwkamp, & Wesselink, 2001).

The reasoning for this could be explained through the theories found in Sharon Marcus’s 2007 book, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England. The book discusses the cultural importance that female friendship played in Victorian England. During that time, any relationship between two women, whether that was platonic, sexual, or in some middle-ground, was “seen as an essential part of heterosexual female identity” and was not viewed as a contributing factor to a woman’s sexuality (Berlatsky, 2013). Marcus connected the lack of sexualization of female eroticism to the way women’s magazines tend to portray women. Rather than using these images for female sexual attraction, they were used as a tool of admiration for the bodies of other women. The body language between women depicted in Victorian women’s magazines is consistent with female portrayals in current issues of women’s magazines (Berlatsky, 2013).

Despite men’s and women’s magazines following similar formulas, the connotations are different. Men’s magazines present female bodies to men as objects for enjoyment, while women’s magazines present other female bodies to women to be used as objects for enjoyment (Berlatsky, 2013). The reason why the latter is appealing to heterosexual women comes from the cultural expectation that women’s gazes and pleasures are secondary to men’s. Gazing at other women the way men are expected to do puts women in a position of power, “but only if they also and simultaneously imagine themselves as looked at” (Berlatsky, 2013).

Magazine Representation of the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Communities

When it comes to the representation of individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) in magazines, adult, gay males were represented in sexual instances more significantly than other sexual orientations and age demographics (Bond, 2014). Bond’s study on LGB representation in entertainment media found that depictions of LGB sexual behavior, “defined as actions that convey a sense of potential, likely, or actual sexual intimacy” (Bond, 2014, pg. 106), were underrepresented in magazines, though the depictions were more validating than demeaning. However, when it came to sexual talk, defined as “relationship talk, talk about sexual interests, talk about past sexual experience, talk towards sex, LGB talk and other,” only 4% of magazine content was related to the LGB community (Bond, 2014, pg. 106).

Framing and Agenda-Setting Theories

Many of these studies connect to agenda-setting and framing theories. Agenda-setting theory involves stories with detailed and extensive media coverage that cause the public to be aware of them and think about them (Rosenberry & Vicker, 2022). Framing differs from agenda-setting in that it selectively features aspects of issues and events and makes connections between them to highlight specific interpretations (Rosenberry & Vicker, 2022). Essentially, agenda-setting tells the audience what to think about and framing tells them how to think about it. Magazines use agenda-setting when they reflect on the current societal roles, but the way in which they frame them influences how women navigate socialization into their femininity.

The conclusion of Gill’s study (2009) emphasized that magazines have changed how they frame discourse around sex. Gill explained that sexual activities previously interpreted as ways to “please your man” have been reworked as doing something “for yourself” to align with postfeminist ideals (Gill, 2009, p. 363). Though the actual actions may be similar to ones found decades earlier, the way in which they are presented to the audience has adjusted to fit a more feminist agenda, one that is more self-chosen and self-pleasing.

Purpose and Hypothesis

These prior studies show that sexual advice in women’s magazines is purposeful and attractive to the audience and will likely be prevalent in media for years to come, underscoring the importance of studying this topic. This study will focus directly on how headlines themselves frame sex for the intended audience of women, and how that framing has changed over time. For this study, inclusive sex is defined as sex described without set gender roles, or heterosexual sex that simultaneously emphasizes both female and male pleasure.

Hypothesis: Headlines relating to sex on the covers of Cosmopolitan magazine changed over time to prioritize female pleasure and inclusive sex.

III. Methods

A content analysis was conducted on the headlines on the covers from each monthly issue of Cosmopolitan magazine from the years 1979, 1999, and 2019 to track changes in how sex gets framed by this publication. The year 2019 was selected because of its occurrence prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to filter out content that pertained to changes in sexual habits due to the social impacts of the pandemic. The year 1999 was selected for its timely proximity to the HBO series Sex and the City. Sex and the City has been cited as a catalyst for sex positivity for women, and many women remember it as an influential piece of media when it comes to the way they perceive and practice sex. This popular show, along with others that came after it, was released years after 1979, which allows the study to observe a year that isn’t historically known for portraying sex in the media. These 36 covers span 40 years to give the study an ample frame to help track how sentiment changes over time.

These magazine covers were found via Google Image Search by searching for “Cosmopolitan magazine print cover” with the month and year of publication. To validate that the covers were coming from the correct month and year, it was confirmed that there were multiple sources citing the image as the correct cover for the specified date. The date is also clearly labeled on each cover underneath the title of the magazine.

Magazine headlines from the front covers were collected and condensed into a spreadsheet divided by month and year. Headlines were written down and then categorized by topic. The topics that emerged were:

●      Sex (female focus)
●      Sex (male focus)
●      Sex (general focus)
●      Relationships
●      Marriage
●      Celebrity profile
●      Beauty & Wellness
●      Finance
●      Literature
●      Other (such as interior design, personal stories, reader confessions, etc.)

Although this study will only focus on the three different connotations of sex, other headlines were categorized for the potential to further the study. Sex (female focus) is defined as a headline that has a woman as the subject of the line with content directed toward emphasizing female pleasure. The mentions of pleasure can either be direct or implied through the relation to the target audience of the magazine. Sex (male focus) is similar to sex (female focus) in that the content is emphasizing male pleasure. However, the male does not need to be the subject of the sentence. For example, the cover line from May 1979, “Sex-ercise: to Make Your Body Sensuously Catlike—and Keep Him Purring!” has the woman as the subject of the sentence but is directing her to complete actions with the intention of pleasing a man. Both sex (male focus) and sex (female focus) assume heterosexual relationships.

Sex (general focus) is defined as content relating to sex with no set gender roles for either the subject or the person receiving pleasure OR emphasizes both female and male pleasure in the same line. For example, July 1979’s “Finding Out His Turn-Ons—and Making Sure He Knows Yours” and June 2019’s “The difference between good sex & great sex” would both fit within the sex (general focus) category.

IV. Findings

Despite women’s magazines being known for their sexual advice, the most common type of headlines from 1979 and 2019 were not related to sex. In 1979, as shown in Table 1, the most common headlines were about celebrity profiles, with 20 headlines about celebrities compared to 19 headlines about sex. In 1999, the most common type of headline was about sex (28 headlines), particularly with a male focus (20 out of 28 sex-related headlines had a male focus). The second most common type of headline in 1999 was relationships, with 19 headlines across 12 issues. In 2019, celebrity profiles were again the most common type of headline, with 14 celebrity headlines compared to 10 sex-related headlines. See Table 1 and Table 2 for a complete breakdown of headline topics by year and Table 3 for a breakdown of the type of sexual headlines by year.

Table 1. Headline topics by year (numerical)

Topic 1979 1999 2019
Sex (female focus) 3 2 3
Sex (male focus) 7 20 0
Sex (general focus) 9 6 7
Relationships 13 19 4
Marriage 7 1 0
Celebrity Profile 20 7 14
Beauty & Wellness 17 17 5
Literature 13 0 0
Finance 5 1 3
Astrology 0 1 9
Fashion 0 4 2
Other (interiors, personal stories, etc.) 17 16 9
Total 111 94 56

Table 2. Headline topics by year (percentages)

Topic 1979 1999 2019
Sex (female focus) 3% 2% 5%
Sex (male focus) 6% 21% 0%
Sex (general focus) 8% 7% 13%
Relationships 12% 20% 7%
Marriage 6% 1% 0%
Celebrity Profile 18% 8% 25%
Beauty & Wellness 15% 18% 9%
Literature 12% 0% 0%
Finance 5% 1% 5%
Astrology 0% 1% 16%
Fashion 0% 4% 4%
Other (interiors, personal stories, etc.) 15% 17% 16%
Total 100% 100% 100%

Table 3. Type of sexual headlines by year

Year Sex (female focus) Sex (male focus) Sex (general focus) Total Headlines Related to Sex
1979 3 (16%) 7 (37%) 9 (47%) 19 (100%)
1999 2 (7%) 20 (71%) 6 (22%) 28 (100%)
2019 3 (10%) 0 (0%) 7 (70%) 10 (100%)

The breakdown and percentage of headlines related to sex fluctuated throughout the 30-year period (Table 4). In 1979, only 17% of the headlines were about sex. In 1999, the percentage of headlines about sex increased to 30%, before falling to 18% in 2019.

Table 4. Percentage of headlines related to sex, per year

Year Headlines Related to Sex Total Headlines % of Headlines About Sex
1979 19 111 17%
1999 28 94 30%
2019 10 56 18%

The breakdown of the type of sexual headlines also changed significantly over time, as shown in Table 5. In 1979, 16% of the headlines related to sex were female-focused, 37% were male-focused, and 47% were general. In contrast, 30% of the 2019 sex-related headlines were female-focused, 0% were male-focused, and 70% were general.

Table 5. Breakdown of sexual headlines by focus

Year % Female-Focus % Male-Focus % General-Focus
1979 16% 37% 47%
1999 7% 71% 22%
2019 30% 0% 70%

V. Discussion

This qualitative analysis examines whether and how headlines relating to sex on the covers of Cosmopolitan magazine have changed over time in terms of prioritizing female pleasure and inclusive sex. From a general overview, the total number of headlines on the covers changed throughout the years. In 1979, there was an average of 9.25 headlines per cover, decreasing to an average of 7.83 headlines per cover in 1999, and down again in 2019 to an average of 6.22 headlines per cover. The amount of text content on the cover decreased fairly significantly. Because of this decrease, it makes the most sense to discuss the results in percentages of the totals.

As shared in the Results section (Table 5), the largest change of focus pertains to male-focused sex headlines. Surprisingly, there is a significant spike in the percentage of male-focused headlines between 1979 and 1999, before dropping to zero such headlines in 2019. Noticeably, the elimination of male-focused headlines in 2019 pushed the majority of the focus to be general, rather than to a female focus, despite the female target audience of Cosmopolitan.

There could be several historical factors that contribute to the fluctuation of the headline breakdown. Though no direct links can be made without further primary research, there is likely a connection between the headline framing and historical and cultural events that influence the type of headlines in Cosmopolitan magazine.

The early 70s hosted two of the most prominent legal changes for the feminist movement. In June 1972, Title IX became law under President Nixon, stating that “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX requires women to have equal access to sports in schools, and also functions as a way to report sexual assault and violence. Shortly after Title IX, the landmark Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade protected a woman’s legal access to abortion (, 2019).

In the late 60s and early 70s, the sexual revolution, also known as the sexual liberation movement, was beginning. The concept that women could enjoy sex just as much as men was a radical thought at the time, so the feminist movement emphasized that women should be empowered by sexual freedom. The birth control pill served as a catalyst for both the movement and the backlash it received; women were able to enjoy sex with a lowered risk of conception, which threatened religious conservatives who believed more people would engage in premarital and casual sex (PBS, n.d.). A double standard ensured single women faced more backlash, despite the fact that straight, single women would need a male counterpart to engage in these sexual acts. In the face of backlash, single culture and casual sex rose in popularity, promoted through media like Playboy and Helen Gurley Brown’s book, Sex and the Single Girl.

The historical movements align with the focus of headlines on the 1979 issues of Cosmopolitan. The most prominent focus of sexual headlines was general, followed by male focus and female focus. A push towards inclusive content with a general focus aligns with the sexual revolution, and though there was a more frequent male focus than female, it was a minor difference. This may reflect how Cosmo was just hitting its stride with female consumers newly aware of their sexual independence.  Sexual headlines didn’t really exist at all in the 1960s, even in women’s magazines, until Brown’s first issue in 1965. Cosmo was still a young magazine in terms of the reinvented tone and was still finding its place in the media ecosystem in the 1970s.

The 1990s had promise to be a positive time for feminism. Women began to postpone settling down through marriage and raising children, moving the median marriage age for women from 21 years old in 1990, to 25 years old in 1997. Women began entering the male-dominated workforce and taking on careers not typically reserved for their gender. Women gained more recognition and power in the entertainment, business, politics, and science industries. The “Girl Power” movement was popularized in the 90s, assuming the progress for adult women would make its way down to girls and young women as well. Girls were embracing feminine culture after seeing more female representation in the media.

Unfortunately, as women moved into positions of power, pop culture stole it back from them through its sexualization and objectification of women in the media. Hostility toward women became normalized. Once a woman made it into the public eye, she often was reduced to “gruesome sexual fantasies and misogynistic stereotypes” (Yarrow, 2018). No type of criticism was off limits and women constantly became victims of sexism. Sexist language became the dialogue of society, so much so that it became difficult to question.

Objectification and sexualization of women often couple with hypermasculinity, a model of masculinity that glorifies physical male attributes while promoting dominance, violence, sexual aggression, and physical strength (Kac-Vergne, 2012). Though hypermasculinity has always been present in media, it gained popularity during the 1980s and 90s, particularly through its use in science-fiction films and television shows such as Baywatch. Hypermasculinity has damaging effects on men, ones that strongly impact women. When men socialize into hypermasculinity, they adopt values of domination and control over women that perpetuate patriarchal structures and rape culture (Williams, 2019).

Cosmopolitan cover headlines of 1999 reflect the objectification of women through the domination of male-focused sexual headlines. Headlines such as December 1999’s “Love Coupons (Just for Him) These Bedroom Passes Will Leave Him Breathless” and January 1999’s “Sex Rules! 10 Make-Him-Throb Moves So Hot You’ll Need a Fire Hose to Cool Down the Bed” prioritize the male sexual experience and pleasure without any mention of how it benefits the woman. Having achieved some societal advances in the 1970s, the 90s seemed to be an era when women retracted a little in the cultural backlash; they didn’t want to be identified as feminists. The headlines in Cosmo about sex reflected an era also captured in a 1982 TV commercial for Enjoli perfume: “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never ever let you forget you’re a man.” The 90s emphasized a time when women were valued as sex objects, and Cosmopolitan was no exception when it came to the promotion of that narrative.

Cultural shifts in the 2010s may well have impacted magazine content as well. In 2017, more than 30 actresses and employees accused former film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and misconduct; he was later criminally charged and convicted. The accusations launched a revival of the #MeToo social media movement that encouraged survivors to share their stories of violence. By the 2010s, the #MeToo movement helped give women more power and agency  (Stauffer, 2022).

The silence about sexual misconduct in the 1990s and the simultaneous promotion of male pleasure in Cosmo reflected the backlash of female empowerment and feminism in American culture at the time. The magazines from 2019 only explicitly referenced men once, seen on the November issue, and it was not exactly about enhancing male pleasure: “HELLO, “BLUE BALLS” ARE NOT REAL, YOU’RE WELCOME.” This line actually helps dismantle a long-believed falsehood used by men to coerce women into performing sex acts.

Alongside female encouragement through the #MeToo movement, the LGBTQIA+ community was also empowered during this time. Though LGBTQIA+ movements have been around for over a century, many milestones of the movement occurred in the 2010s. In June 2015, the Supreme Court ruled to recognize same-sex marriage, a huge step towards equality. Regarding pop culture, the lesbian Broadway show Fun Home won multiple Tony awards in 2015, Bruce Jenner came out as trans and became known as Caitlyn Jenner, and in 2016, lesbian and transgender films Carol and The Danish Girl won Academy Awards. Additionally, the Pulse nightclub mass shooting occurred in June 2016, killing 49 people and injuring 50 (Morris, 2019). Though this shooting was a clear hate crime, many Americans expressed an outpouring of respect and empathy toward the LGBTQIA+ community. As the LGBTQIA+ community gained more rights in the latter half of the 2010s, there was a media push to reflect a more welcoming and inclusive space.

That may be one explanation for the push toward sexual advice with a general focus. Headlines on the Cosmopolitan covers were less centered on pronouns that assigned gender to those involved in the described sexual encounter. For example, 2019 included cover lines such as January’s “YOUR 2019 SEX & DATING STRATEGY Genius Tricks for Finding Your Person + Next-Level Hookup Ideas” and June’s “The difference between good sex & great sex” discuss sex from a general point of view. While the pronoun “your” may be directed at the female target audience, the rest of the cover lines are not indicative of any gender or sexual identity. January’s headline that says, “your person,” implies that the reader may not be looking for a cisgender male to fill this role. Cosmo had transitioned through the decades from sexual empowerment, to female objectification, and then finally to inclusiveness for all sexual identities.

VI. Conclusion

Cosmo’s headlines about sex align appropriately with cultural women’s movements. Over time, a shift towards inclusive sexual advice can be seen across Cosmopolitan’s front cover headlines. Cosmo in the 2020s has included sex content that pertains to people of all gender identities and sexualities and remains popular with readers. This study reveals that while Cosmo was empowering to women in the 1970s, it transitioned into tacitly subjugating them in the 1990s as sex objects, as did much of American culture. While the magazine still promotes many stories about sex, the editorial decisions have evolved to be more inclusive for a 2020s audience. This study provides new information that enhances knowledge about popular media, women’s history, and adds to knowledge about how the media reflects and enhances elements of popular  culture.

This study was conducted on Cosmopolitan magazine, and therefore the implications of the paper are limited to the single publication. Future research might examine other publications and other story topics over the decades, as well as the textual content of the articles themselves. Also, this content analysis relied on a limited number of issues, and only one coder, so the sample was not exhaustive, and the possibility of bias cannot be discounted.

Additionally, not every article in the magazine gets called out on the cover. An analysis could be conducted on what types of articles the editor chose to feature on the front cover and how they compare to the content as a whole within the magazine. This study provides the foundation for future studies and enhances existing knowledge about media history and the magazine industry.


Thank you to my research mentor, Dr. Jane O’Boyle, for the hours she spent guiding me in my research methods and writing. I’d also like to thank my parents, Kelly and George Cave, for always prioritizing my education and giving me the opportunity to spend four wonderful years at Elon University’s School of Communications.


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