The Cost of Selling Sex: Exposing the price of Over-exposure

Now she’s wearing nothing but her corset, her back is arched, and her legs push against the ground in protest; she’s exhausted and losing the will the fight back. Her twig-arms are pinned to ground by the greasy, half-naked male on top of her. Through his Armani-knock off sunglasses he stares at her. She doesn’t look back, but stares off into the distance waiting for it all to be over. Three men crowd around them, staring as the undernourished woman tries to escape; they don’t try to stop it. They stand there in their figure-hugging collared shirts and denim shorts and in bold, opaque letters, the words “DOLCE & GABBANA” cut across the entire image.

Some of the world’s most influential and affluent designers currently use offensive sexual imagery, such as the one exhibited above, as a key sales strategy. This particular example of sex being used (and abused) in advertising is from Dolce & Gabbana’s Spring/Summer 2007 collection. The image sparked such high levels of controversy that it was eventually pulled off the market. However this result did not mark the end of sex in advertising, in fact, commercials have become increasingly more sexualized over the past decade. It must be acknowledged that the notion “sex sells” is a far from revolutionary and attractive females figures has proved to be a highly successful bait for reeling in a male customers since the beginning of modern advertising. The difference is, that images of explicit nudity, fetishized fantasies and sexual domination in advertising have become normalized. Australia’s historically conservative psyche has been largely rewired and our generation has been conditioned, via pervasive cultural norms, to consider the over-sexualized portrayal of both men and women in advertising as standard.

It is not merely high-end designers who are guilty of using such images as part of their advertising portfolio. Industries that haven’t been historically categorized as “sexy” are beginning to hop on this bandwagon of bad-taste. Today it seems as though every market, from cars to skin care, seems to have been brushed with some form of erotic advertising campaign. Designers and celebrities alike are constantly chasing the “shock factor” by challenging standards of decency, in what can only be described as a desperate attempt to sell more clothing, more magazines and more albums. But at what cost are we selling sex?

The unrealistic and offensive portrayal of both male and female sexuality is beginning to warp our perceptions of sexual normality. The nature of advertising means that companies aim to obtain the highest exposure possible in order to maximize their potential client base. Consequently society is flooded with these images, boobs on the sides of buses, bums on the cover of magazines, bare-skin spread across our television screens. The overexposed nature of these overexposed images means that all demographics will incidentally come across them. Children and teenagers who aren’t necessarily mature enough to understand the concepts in many of these sexual commercials grow to accept the messages as the norm. When advertisements, such as the Dolce & Gabbana example above, allude to notions of gang rape and female subjugation, these images become normalized and even fetishized. Whilst this reasoning may sound hyperbolic or far-fetched, the fact of the matter is the media releases images that carry sexual connotations or suggestions, and no one regulates who sees these images. Women are too often reduced to sexual objects whilst men are continuous placed in the dominant position, whilst industries may be adopting this stance to sell product, in the end what they’re really selling is a perception of gender roles.