Women’s  Service Mags Far Sexier Online Than in Print

The traditional women’s service magazines are known for their content reflecting family values, aimed at married women with children.

Yet online, it’s at times a different story. Readers might be surprised to find frank sex tips tucked among the pie recipes and crafts.

On the sites of titles like Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping, most of the content deals with jumpstarting marital sex (“Be the aggressor, sometimes”). But it gets even hotter, too. A search for sex on the Woman’s Day Web site, for instance, turns up dozens of articles with headlines like “The Best Sex Positions for Every Situation.”

Nor are parenting books ignoring readers’ sex needs. The site of Parents, which like LHJ is owned by Meredith, serves up “juicy” journals on four parents’ sex lives. (Meredith declined to comment.)

Some marketers are sensitive to their ads appearing near risqué content of the sort found on the women’s sites, and some buyers found a disconnect between the online content and the publications’ chaste reputations. “It doesn’t seem to fit [with] holiday recipes and how to organize your closet,” said Roberta Garfinkle, svp, director of print strategy, TargetCast.

While some believe editors have more leeway online, others said advertisers don’t relax their standards for the Web. “Controversial content always raises eyebrows,” said Brenda White, senior vp, publishing activation director, Starcom USA. “It’s still a concern online.”

That advertiser sensitivity isn’t lost on publishers. In 4 million circulation Woman’s Day, “there is absolutely no sex content in the pages at all,” said Carlos Lamadrid, svp, chief brand officer, Woman’s Day Group. “Advertisers, they love that we don’t do it in print. They really like to stay away from it if they can.”

However, editors said they’re not hiding sex content on their sites and that saucy online content, usually part of their health coverage, befits the Web’s younger audience.

“It reflects the different users,” said Elizabeth Mayhew, editor in chief of Woman’s Day, published by Hachette Filipacchi Media. “Most people use Web sites in the privacy of their own home—which is different from the usage of the magazine, which is more public.”

Rosemary Ellis, editor in chief of Hearst’s 4.6 million circ Good Housekeeping, has been bolder than her predecessors in running sex content; since arriving four years ago, she has run a package in print called Making Lust Last. A sex blog came in 2008. “Online audiences are a good 10 years younger,” she said. “So what you do online is not necessarily what you do in print. Also, women are going to the Web looking for specific information. In that way, I think it’s more appropriate.”

True as that may be, it’s also true that sex content can be a big traffic driver, especially among younger readers that the women’s service magazines particularly crave as their readers, in print and online alike, push 50 plus.

Featuring sex material in print, meanwhile, has its risks. Only seven years ago, Walmart installed blinders on Hearst’s Redbook, which had been pushing sex coverage, to conceal naughty coverlines.

Ellis said she has no plans to make sex a regular feature in the print edition, but not because readers might object. “If I did, I’d have to take something else out,” she said. “It’s not that we’re afraid to do it or we think we’ll alienate the reader or advertiser or retailer.

It’s not who we are.”