‘Sex sells’ they tell us. But what are we really buying?

First of all, apologies to Elena Rossini for using a post title from her The Illusionists blog – although it seems she drew it from another ad banner maybe? Well, sorry to whoever coined the phrase. I’m sure they’ll be glad that it is still furthering discussion through my writing. Actually, now that I’m already busy breaking, entering and stealing, I’ll just take the picture↓ as well.

So, ‘Sex sells’ they tell us. But what are we really buying?

Towards the end of last year I was listening to a discussion on our town’s local radio station concerning the annual November SA Sports Illustrated Swimwear Edition. As I switched to the 92.6FM frequency I dropped in on a talk and this is basically what I heard as they discussed some of the pictures set to appear in the magazine: “She’s looking great… she’s doing her thing… she’s like against a tree… this blonde girl, giving that ‘look’… how do you girls do that look (he asks his female co-presenter)”.

I then responded through facebook as follow: “So you do your thing, stand against a tree and give that look, then we buy the mags, compliment you, celebrate your freedom to stand-against-a-tree-and-do-your-thing with you, and somewhere along the line bikinis gets sold? Or how does it work?” To which a friend of mine responds: “It works like this: Take product. Add sex. Sell product (or at least idea of getting sex after buying product). Make millions. Pretty easy actually.”

I turn once again to a post on The Illusionists blog where a quote from art critic John Berger is used (the word ‘publicity’ is replaced with ‘advertising’):

Advertising proposes to each of us that we transform ourselves, or our lives, by buying something more. This more, it proposes, will make us in some way richer – even though we will be poorer by having spent our money. Advertising persuades us of such a transformation by showing us people who have apparently been transformed and are, as a result, enviable. The state of being envied is what constitutes glamour. …Advertising is never a celebration of a pleasure-in-itself. Advertising is always about the future buyer. It offers him an image of himself made glamorous by the product or opportunity it is trying to sell. The image then makes him envious of himself as he might be. Yet what makes this self-which-he-might-be enviable? The envy of others. Advertising is about social relations, not objects. Its promise is not of pleasure, but of happiness: happiness as judged from the outside by others. The happiness of being envied is glamour.

And consider then the words of Banksy, the British social activist, commentator and artist, on advertising:

People are taking the p*** out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are The Advertisers and they are laughing at you.

You, however, are forbidden to touch them…”

So, we buy the idea of hopefully obtaining sex through such a purchase; not so much for the sexual experience itself though, but for the sake of being envied by others or gaining some value in our own eyes. What we are buying when we purchase ‘sex’ in its commercially packaged format, is a dream – a mentally fabricated dream where we, the buyers ourselves, are the ultimate object of desire. In other words, sex has been reduced to a sort of status symbol. Reduced from an act of intimacy as Professor Mark Phillips points out when he discussed the sexualisation of children (by the media) and how schools should deal with it: ‘Meanwhile, sex is sold as a commodity in advertisements, movies, TV shows and on the Internet, rarely portrayed as associated with intimacy.’ And what is more, it is not a general symbol of status but usually one affirming the status of men at the cost of that of women.

It seems my facebook friend was pretty spot-on in his conclusion.

What would the effect be on a society however, if we take sex, which is vital for intimacy within and the strengthening of a relationship between a man and a woman, promote it as a status symbol and then use it to objectify women so that they can be used as tools to deceive men into buying products?


Original “Sex Sells” They tell us. But what are we really buying? article.

Beauty Redefined voices their Issue with Swimsuits (or lack thereof) in Sports Illustrated.


About Servaas Hofmeyr

For life through Truth.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Sexualisation. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s