Does “Sex Sells” Mean Selling Sex?

Someone scratched out her nipple and I say, right on! Before you think I’m blogging for the wrong website, let me explain: I’m talking about a Diesel ad.

I saw a poster (left) for Diesel’s new “Stupid Campaign” beside my neighborhood park. (I’m not name-calling. That’s the actual campaign name.) The ads urge you to ditch safe and smart for more creative and risky pursuits — Be Stupid. This particular ad was in their “Smart may have the brains, but Stupid has the balls” line. In it, a girl is flashing a security camera. The model is posed so that you can see her nipple. Her giant, poster-sized nipple. On the fence right by the kiddie park. Very responsible marketing, Diesel.

When I passed it again, someone had scratched out the nipple on every single poster. I guess they decided to take responsibility into their own hands.

This got me thinking about advertising, responsibility, and “sex sells.” From Gossip Girl to Caprica, we see adult women playing teen girls, hyper-sexualized and meant to grab the attention of men. Correction, meant to arouse men with images of “teenage” girls. Then there are ads like American Apparel’s — ads that are so porn-like they were sued because of it. The AA ads have spurred an entire campaign against them, including Women’s Rights blogger Ruth Fertig calling for a boycott of AA altogether due to their current “Best Butts” contest.

Is there a difference between these ads, pornography, and selling actual sex? If prostitution is illegal in most states, and if child porn is illegal period, what makes these ads “selling sex” okay? Are semantics like, “But the actress is actually 22 even though she is portraying a 16 year old so it’s fine,” hiding the fact that we are still feeding the demand for sold sex, sometimes sold by minors?

I once turned down a date with a photographer after seeing his website. The site was full of practically naked, 20-something girls in compromising poses. He said it was art and that he was helping these girls to further their careers. All I could think about was the guy who looks at the photos and decides to go out and buy some real action for himself. Supply and demand. What is the line between using sex to sell a product and creating demand for sex as the product?

And yes, I know. In Europe the ads are even racier and available to everyone. Americans are prudes. Europe also isn’t doing so hot on the anti-trafficking front. Now, before you send me a strongly worded letter, understand that I’m not saying “sex sells” leads directly to the trafficking of human beings for sex. I am saying that there should be a greater level of responsibility in advertising. As consumers, we also need to think about what we are consuming and if it is ultimately objectifying sex and women, approving them as items to be bought and sold. Because, let’s be honest, when you respond to one of those ads, you’re not just buying the jeans; you’re buying the half-naked girl in the jeans.

Photo credit: Sarah Parker



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