Selling sex: we're all getting screwed

A few ways in which Ann Summers has screwed you, and not in the ways it intended to

As has been pointed out in the past by numerous writers much better than I, this old myth that ‘sex sells’ has been shoved down our throats continuously for the past decade or so, and I refuse to swallow it (though I’m always up for a protracted blow-job pun, as you can see.) What sells is a naked woman or a very skewed, heterosexual-male-fantasy version of sex. Witness the recently controversial ad for a Belfast club - ‘if you’re not up for it, don’t cum’ reads the charming line, across a backdrop of a girl’s tottering high-heeled legs with knickers pulled down to the floor. When would you see a male version of this? In a club whose demographic is gay men, perhaps. Anywhere with a demographic of straight women: forget it.

The commodification of sex makes for a muddy discussion, because for every disillusioned lover who just wants to do it their way without being forced into PVC nipple tassels and chocolate lube, there’s a liberated lady ecstatic that she could buy a Rampant Rabbit without involving the black market or some questionable DIY. But one thing’s for sure: when you see every past or potential part of your sex life boxed up and put on the shelves of your nearest high street store, the mannequins won’t be men. If you root through the store, there’ll be a couple of ‘comedy’ attempts at men’s boxers, complete with elephants’ noses or tails where there’s inevitably a penis underneath, but at least 75% of the shop’s underwear range will be taken up with nipple-free bras and teeny tiny thongs. The underlying message seems to be that men can just lie back, laugh, and chill in their silly elephant pants, while their womenfolk sort themselves out, doll themselves up, and make themselves good enough and hairless enough and slutty enough to have sex with them in the modern age.

As the newly revived Don’ts for Wives handbook tells us, if you don’t do it, then he’ll just go elsewhere. And as the faceless mannequins with unimaginably small and uncomfortable French knickers barely covering their fake plastic arse-cracks imply, there are enough clones around to take your relationship away from you if you don’t get with the programme. If the programme really was that sex sold, and we really did see men’s cocks and balls with the foreskin blurred out on the top shelf of every newsagent, I suppose I might get with it. But what sells is this constant, niggling pressure between women - this paranoia that comes manufactured by Durex Play with your self-heating lube - suggesting that women have to keep up, keep buying, keep preening, keep ripping their last pubic hairs out in painful ritualistic monthly waxes, because every other woman is doing it. Witness the open-mouthed models veering out at you from Ann Summers posters in the lingerie you’re supposed to be buying. They’re not there to turn you on, generic straight woman of the Ann Summers demographic. They’re there to intimidate you into imitation.

Sex sells to men, direct. But a psychological attack on your sexuality sells to women. Like deodorant ads on the tube that show suited and booted professionals holding up their arms and revealing unsightly sweat stains, sex-oriented advertising to women comes in one, bland flavour: ‘get this now, or people might judge you.’