• Wed, 27, Apr, 2016 - 5:00:AM

We need to talk about sex in advertising

Sex sells.

Yes, I know, that’s hardly a profound insight. Anyone who has not lived under a literal rock probably knows this.

But here’s some food for thought. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should, right? So should sex be used to sell us virtually everything?

It’s a question that’s been asked for ages, of course – and almost everyone has a different opinion.

Yet it’s also a question that’s been gaining increased attention lately. In Germany, the Justice Minister has proposed banning ads which “reduce women or men to sexual objects.” Banning such ads, it’s argued, would help create a “modern gender image.”

Unsurprisingly, media coverage of the proposal has been ridiculously sexist.

But it’s an interesting question: should advertising that uses sex to sell something be banned?

It’s a tough question to answer, as there is no universal definition of what is ‘sexy’. As much as societal beauty standards would beg to differ, one person’s sexy is another person’s no thanks.

Which leads us to a bigger problem, fed by the narrow lens of what advertisers see as desirable. We need to change the way we think about our bodies.

Yes, our bodies can be sexual. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if a smartphone is really as great as the advert claims, shouldn’t its alleged merits as a product stand up on their own?

The types of bodies we see in advertisements are also troubling, as they’re hardly representative of the population. Studies have shown that less than two per cent of women have the body type that a model has, yet that very small minority can be found in the vast majority of advertisements.

And don’t get me started on the issue of airbrushing.

Another issue at play here is how adverts seem to almost always adhere to very narrowly defined – and ridiculously outdated – gender roles. When’s the last time you saw a shirtless guy in a tablet advertisement? How many times have you seen only women in ads for vacuum cleaners?


So the question is, if Germany is having this conversation, why can’t we? Why can’t we in Aotearoa push for advertisements that aren’t so blatantly sexist?

Yes, advertisers have tons of money, power and influence. But seriously, the fact that you only see women in adverts for cleaning products, or half-naked in commercials for things like motorcycles for no apparent reason, is pretty fucked up.

How can we be progressive if the things that surround us every day are so regressive?

Try getting that line in a commercial – without a ‘bikini body’.


  • Sex /
  • Advertising /
  • Sexualisation /
  • Sex Sells /
  • Objectification /
  • Societal Beauty Standards /
  • Body Image /
  • Gender Roles /

Comments ( 0 )

Be the first to have your say login or register to post a comment

You might also love


Associate Editor All Articles