sex sells and so does outrage

Sex sells, and so does moral outrage about sexy things being lucrative.
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Illustration: lingerie ad from Mexico

It’s a tale we’ve all heard before. Evil media conglomerates are sexualizing children in shocking ways to make a dollar, spreading messages celebrating violence, casual sex and general debauchery. Some of the more fanciful tales in tabloid journals talk about regular sex parties on college campuses and oral sex in middle school. And because the only thing we like more than doing salacious things is reading about others doing salacious things, these shocking reports and lurid tales generate a lot of traffic and a whole lot of cash.

But there’s more to these stories than just the sexy details often written so graphically and so lovingly, one can see the author sweating, inflamed by frenzied fantasies. These tales give us a license to indulge our voyeuristic tendencies with their outraged tones. As we read the teasing plot which often resembles a typical softcore porn flick, we get to shudder in false indignation, asking how could these young children possibly give in to their carnal desires just before we’re ready to flip the page and once again immerse ourselves in the sexual world being crafted by a writer who’s selling us this dual pleasure of toned down erotica and moral superiority. Yes, we get to have our cake and eat it too.

Now you might ask if is there anything else can we add to this perfect mix of sex and righteous morality? Why yes, we can. We can phrase it as a scientific exploration just like Gigi Durham did in her book The Lolita Effect. According to her, corporations are trying to sell sexual products to girls age 8 to 12 in order to make a profit on cradle-to-grave consumers. Her claim is built on two types of evidence. Shocking anecdotal examples like playful underwear at trendy shops and reports of kids using toys that mimic the setup of a strip club, and discussions with junior high school girls who fall into her research demographic. Her book fits the classic storyline of over-sexualized youth losing its innocence, the narrative born during the sexual revolution of the 1960s. It’s just that in her version of the story, the corporations are the new evil music that corrupts innocent children.

Let’s start with one of her anecdotes. A toy called the Peekaboo Pole-Dancing Kit was allegedly being sold to children who wanted to play exotic dancer. Oh my, something’s very wrong here, isn’t it? The problem is that the kit in question is marketed to adults according to its maker. In an episode reported in the conservative UK tabloid Daily Mail, retailer Tesco used to advertise it in the toys and games section of its website and a woman looking for Christmas gifts stumbled upon it. Worried that children might find this adult toy, she complained to a social conservative group which persuaded Tesco to remove the product from its website. This is very far from the claim that “preschoolers can learn to strip with their very own pole dancing kits complete with kiddie garter belts and play money.” The book was supposed to be assembled over 13 years of diligent research, but it seems that one of it’s main promotional factoids is sensationalized out of all proportion and presented in a very misleading fashion.

The second issue comes with the author’s discussions with high school girls which lead her to solidify the five damaging myths about female sexuality supposedly being propagated by evil, soulless media conglomerates. And her myths range from the clichd to simply ridiculous. We all know the idea that incredibly skinny models with an “unrealistic body type” are promoted as the pinnacle of sexuality to the detriment of most women’s self-esteem. Durham breaks it up into three myths to give herself more room to complain about exploitation. Then she begins to get a little overly creative, claiming that the most desirable body type shown in magazines as a prime example of what sexy looks like is of an 11 or 12 year old and that slasher movies try to tell kids that “violence is sexy or that sex should be violent.” Huh? Junior high school girls told her that slasher films make them think about violent sex? Really? You don’t say?

And this is not just one book. Every story which sells us the sex/morality mixture has plenty of shortfalls from exaggerations to sensationalizations. Their goal is to give us a sordid story we can’t put down, not to present an accurate picture. It’s even worse when the researcher behind these stories is so passionate in her opinion and decides to discuss sexuality with kids who are just developing their views on sex and can be easily manipulated by misleading questions of an unimpartial author. Truth is, that as kids reach puberty, they develop an interest in sex. We’re a much longer living species than we once where but evolution hasn’t caught up. To us, the kids are too young to be interested in each other sexually and as nature takes its course, millions of people out there like to find a scapegoat in companies that sell the sexy things their kids would now want to buy. The professor Durhams of this world are more than happy to help them do it by wrapping up salacious tales with a dose of sensationalized pop psychology.

# sex // business / kids / morality / sex

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