Sex Sells? Don’t Buy Into the Hype

If sex does NOT sell, why do we still believe that the phrase has merit?

This quote was taken from the abstract of a study conducted at Ohio State University,

“Using this framework, we meta-analyzed the effects of sexual media, violent media, sexual ads, and violent ads on the advertising outcomes of brand memory, brand attitudes, and buying intentions. The meta-analysis included 53 experiments involving 8,489 participants. Analyses found that brands advertised in violent media content were remembered less often, evaluated less favorably, and less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent, nonsexual media. Brands advertised using sexual ads were evaluated less favorably than brands advertised using nonviolent, nonsexual ads. There were no significant effects of sexual media on memory or buying intentions. There were no significant effects of sexual or violent ads on memory or buying intentions. As intensity of sexual ad content increased, memory, attitudes, and buying intentions decreased. When media content and ad content were congruent (e.g., violent ad in a violent program), memory improved and buying intentions increased. Violence and sex never helped and often hurt ad effectiveness. These results support the evolution and emotional arousal framework. Thus, advertisers should consider the effects of media content, ad content, content intensity, and congruity to design and place more effective ads.”
*Read More Here:

We continue to believe the fallacy that “sex sells” because it makes sense in our minds. At a young age we ask why women dress or act certain ways on tv and the answer we are told is, “because it makes money.” Then as adults, we assume that if companies are spending money on advertisements and not making money that they would discontinue the practice. The thinking may be logical; however, it does not align with reality.

So then if studies show that sexualizing and objectifying women and children does not increase profit, why is this practice at the forefront of marketing techniques? It is difficult to unlearn what we have come to accept for ourselves. Even when presented with new evidence sometimes we inadvertently return to what we previously “knew” (especially if the topic is not discussed for a while in our social or work lives). [This is a link to an article by NPR that talks a little more about mental effort and changing ideas: ]

What should we do when we learn that something claiming to be an innocent marketing strategy is in fact increasing the demand for human trafficking?

When you hear someone repeat the phrase, “sex sells,” explain to them what it really means. Sex does sell, but not the product. It sells normalization of exploitation and abuse. Sexualization in advertisements fuels demand for sex trafficking by showing men that women are objects that you can obtain with money and power. Having the money to buy women further exemplifies what is means to be successful. Oversexualization in advertisements sells the idea that people are for sale.

The oversexualization of advertising and other media has led to the normalization of pornography. This is an example of the pornification of our culture. When women and children are sexualized, objectified, and “pornified”, it’s easy to see them as commodities. It becomes acceptable to buy them.

So, the research indicates that ads of these nature are unlikely to sell products, such as cheeseburgers or beer, but it’s quite likely to contribute to the idea that selling sex is perfectly acceptable.

Knowing what you know now, are you buying what these companies are actually selling?


Writing for Freedom,

Kari Carr

To Report a Tip or Ask for Help Call: 1-888-373-7888


“We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” Albert Einstein


*This post was partially inspired by a Collective Shout article written by Jon Westenberg. Click here to check out the post: 



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