Sex: a private act that is publicly discussed and depicted. Similarly to audiences growing immune to the effects of violence, we are becoming more conditioned to seeing sex in the media we interact with, and therefore more immune to its impact.
What would have once been seen as controversial to be viewed in public is now featured in almost all moves aimed at young adults and over, as well as splashed across advertisements persuading consumers to purchase items such as clothes or perfume. Simply put, sex sells. Why? Human beings are wired to constantly search for the ideal partner with which to reproduce, and sex is one of our few basic primal urges.
You may be familiar with statements claiming that men think about sex at least five times a minute, however there is no scientific evidence to back up these so-called facts. A recent study conducted by Psychology Today author Dr. Terri D. Fisher found that, on average, males have 34.2 sexual thoughts per day, whilst women have 18.6. Whilst this number is a lot less than “several times a minute” theories, it confirms that the amount of sex-related thoughts we are having are similar to those surrounding our other primal instincts.
“Statistical tests indicated that the number of thoughts about sex was not statistically larger than the number of thoughts about food and sleep. Men had more thoughts about all three of those areas than did women… The typical men in this sample were thinking about sex once or twice an hour, and statistically no more and no less than they were thinking about eating or sleeping.” (Dr. Terri D. Fisher, 2011).
So what does this mean in relation to the media? Sex has increasingly been included in the media that we consume because, being a primal instinct, it is relatable to most audiences, and is a part of almost every television episode, movie or novel that we pick up. Simply turn on HBO’s controversial Game of Thrones; with an average of 5.6 boobs per episode and title of most downloaded show for three consecutive years, it is a prime example of our attraction to erotic imagery. Media producers are increasingly using and manipulating sexual imagery, as it is an effective tool that entices audiences. However, media audiences must be wary with the depictions of sex that they are viewing on screens and pages. With the idea that media reflects conventional ideas and morals that individuals should conform to, certain portrayals of sexual acts or gender expectations may not be conveying the right idea.
Moral panic has emerged in recent years about the portrayal of sex on television screens and the reality of it. With the awkwardness of discussing sex with parents and the lack of informative sex education in schools, children and adolescents are turning to media to learn about sex. Glamorised, fully edited sex scenes found so often in popular Hollywood blockbusters are setting unrealistic expectations for younger audiences, not preparing them correctly for the reality of their own experiences. Role models to younger age groups may also be contributing to this issue. Many parents were angered when former Disney star Miley Cyrus gave a raunchy performance at the 2013 VMA’s, shocked at the poor example she was giving to her established fan-base of young teenagers.
Furthermore, the song in question, Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines, has been slammed in the media for its poor taste in representation and dubbed as the most controversial song of the decade (2013). An insightful article from The Guardian discusses the songs negative connotations of sex and consent, rape and misogyny.
Blurred Lines is one of many examples of a growing concern in sexual representation, that being the objectification of women. The female body is consistently revered in most cultures throughout history, this fascination being represented through various art forms and media outlets. However, there is a large difference between tasteful representation and cheap selling tactics, with the latter becoming more prominent in contemporary culture. Whilst a percentage of the objectified are men, it is majorly women who are sexually objectified. The commoditization of women is widespread, bringing to mind glossy magazine covers and billboard advertisements where women are made-up to their most attractive for the purpose of bringing male attention to a brand or company. The media is both the source and the means of relaying the moral panic connected to the sexual objectification of women, fears which surround women self-objectifying themselves, particularly the impressionable audiences of children and adolescents. With the sheer amount of women being used as sex symbols in the media, we can only assume that the media supports a male dominated society in which men are subjects and women are merely objects.
In saying this, there has been a growth in feminist literature, media pieces and initiatives that are rebutting the commodification of women. Lina Esco’s film and equality movement ‘Free the Nipple’ (2014) addresses the double standards of female nudity in society.
Whilst media portrays erotic images of women, females are oppressed by laws, regulations and “norms” in everyday life as society shies away from feminine symbols such as bare nipples and tampons that indicate the not-so-glamorous reality of being female. With a multitude of mixed messages leaving females with warped perceptions of gender roles and sexuality, the media is an integral part of societal problem in need of a push for change.