I certainly don’t need to tell people in the sex industry that sex sells. Everything from burgers to bronzer to actual sex is sold through erotic imagery and the promise of intimacy. There are some people who derogatively refer to the commercial sexualization of everyday life as the “pornification” of our culture—that is, they critique the mainstreaming of porn-like imagery in our culture.

Others, however, see the mainstreaming of sex and sexuality as an opportunity to reject punitive moral codes. People like that—indeed, people like me—think that moral codes are often used to oppress large numbers of people who engage in taboo or otherwise stigmatized sexual behavior. Either way, the commercial sexualization of everyday life has become ubiquitous and seemingly irrepressible. In fact, in 2006, global pornography revenues reached 96 billion dollars. Sex sells, but why?

Survey data from the last fifty years show an increased acceptance of women’s sexual agency, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and sexual pleasure in general. The U.S. national General Social Survey shows increasing acceptance of premarital sex and homosexual sex. Similarly, Gallup polls show a majority of Americans morally accept same-sex relations. Furthermore, the sex industry has become increasingly durable, profitable, and respectable. Strip clubs, sex toyshops, and porn stores, as examples, are moving from seedy alleys and dusty highway hangouts into more public view. Complete with logos and propelled by well-researched marketing campaigns, brand name adult stores and chain strip clubs have become a fixture in many U.S. cities and communities.

Haute ShotsGrowing in tandem with more relaxed views of sex and sexuality is the proliferation of a global service industry. Technological growth has enabled consumption, not production, to become the economic engine. We now sell more services and, increasingly, leisure, escape and adventure. Tourism is now the world’s largest employer. Work has moved out of factories and into homes, where people hold part-time, independently contracted jobs. Many jobs in new service sectors involve selling core aspects of human relations and emotions like sexual and erotic services, among others.

In this context, we see two important trends affecting the commercial sexualization of everyday life: the rapid growth in the size and scope of the commercial sex industry across the globe and a general mainstreaming of the industry.

As a testament to the mainstreaming of the sex industry, Nevada has a number of business associations across the state that deal with adult businesses. Two of the most notable include the Nevada Brothel Association, housed in Reno, and the Sin City Chamber of Commerce in Southern Nevada. They now have around 500 members, including LGBTQ friendly entertainment businesses. Moreover, brothels have attempted to corner the market on hetero women by employing male sex workers. Many female providers also see female clientele, which allows hetero, bisexual, and questioning women to explore their sexuality with greater fervor.

For many people, the mainstreaming of the commercial sexualization of everyday life goes beyond tasteless Burger King advertisements. It allows for the kinds of fluid sexual identities and experimentations so often stigmatized by traditional sexual mores. While some see “pornification” as inherently sexist, many find liberation in the ability to explore sexuality. To paraphrase Pat Califia, even a just society could not eliminate paying for pleasure. Sex, even then, would still sell.

Jenny Heineman is co-author of Sex Industry and Sex Workers in Nevada  with Rachel MacFarlane and Barbara G. Brents. 2012.The Social Health of Nevada: Leading Indicators and Quality of Life in the Silver State, edited by Dmitri N. Shalin. Las Vegas, NV: UNLV Center for Democratic Culture.

About Jenny Heineman

I am a researcher and student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The relationship between gender, sexuality, and commerce is fascinating to me, particularly in our increasingly hostile, anti-prostitution sociopolitical environment. I look forward to learning from everyone on this blog!
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9 Responses to Sex Sells…Why?

  1. Jeremy L says:

    Great post Jenny! You mention that some brothels have attempted employing male sex workers. I’m wondering what your views are on attempts like the Heidi Fleiss ‘Stud Farm’. Do you think that there’s a future for brothels catering to hetero women in Nevada?

    • jmheineman says:

      If there were brothels full of depressed poets with messy hair and five o’clock shadows, I’d be the most devoted customer! Many people seem to think that there’s simply not a market for male prostitution; that women won’t pay for sex. I think that stereotype is rooted in traditional ideas about gender, namely the idea that women are somehow more virtuous, sexually, than men. We see, though, that these stereotypes are far from reality. Female-oriented businesses in the sex industry–like sex toyshops that cater to women–have proven to be extremely lucrative. I sure wish the Stud Farm had panned out! A brothel catering to the multifarious orientations and proclivities of women–and people of all genders—is very much overdue in Nevada!

      • Guest says:

        Human beings are sexual creatures by design and as such, we constantly think about it. Sex sells because we crave it. It just so happens that beyond craving it we are now more open to exploring our sexuality.

        A sexual encounter can satisfy an emotional need when there is a connection (chemistry) between two people. It’s magical and addicting, so why not pay a fee for a professional legal prostitute? Someone who is willing to satisfy your every sexual fantasy? Someone who enjoys giving and receiving sexual pleasure but doesn’t require monogamy. A legal prostitute will be disease free, discreet and quite possibly as satisfied as a client with the whole experience.

        Sex isn’t wrong given all of the health benefits so why should paying for sexual services be considered wrong? Think of us as your personal trainer / sex therapist, we give you a workout, stress relief and satisfaction all at once. Sex sells because it’s good for you.

        Lets compare it to a healthy smoothie… Jamba Juice for instance. They offer a variety of mouth watering delicious treats that are good for you. Granted you can take care of your craving on your own by making a smoothie at home but it’s never as satisfying as when you walk into a friendly store front, greeted by a beautiful smile and then given exactly what you asked for without having to clean up the mess.

        Case in point, come to Sheri’s and have a deliciously great time

  2. Dena says:

    What a wonderful read. I was particularly pleased that you had touched on women becoming more confident in exploring their sexuality. I have noticed that this confidence has rolled over into an increase in couples starting to explore and experiment with their sexuality within their relationship. I find this fascinating. I have seen couples entering into a deeper understanding of each others likes that they had previously never known. You can see a different level of closeness in their eyes and body language. Awesome stuff in my opinion.

  3. Sex is the common thread among every single human being on the planet. It should come as no surprise with the increasingly sexually liberated consumer base that sex is on the menu today. What was once considered taboo, perverted, and immoral is now being viewed as exploration and empowerment. I for one as a “purveyor of all things naughty” appreciate the fact that society will eventually discard the “victim” label and replace it with something more accurately descriptive of my position. I love the idea of someone coming to me to explore a fantasy in a safe environment, instead of being shunned to the dark corners of society. Kudos to Sheri’s Ranch for giving The Open Minded who choose to venture into the fantasy realm a safe and exciting rendezvous. 

  4. Amber Lynn says:

    Fabulous blog! It is a great depiction of the sex industry as a whole, and educational for those who have so many misconceptions of what the sex industry entails.

    The sex industry is not as taboo as it once was. Society has slowly started to venture outside the box, exploring sexuality various aspects. For instance here at Sheri’s Ranch, I cater to men, women, couples, ect. all curious as to where their sexual explorations may take them. It is incredible to be able to create a mind blowing experience for those i party and play with, an experience that perhaps they never could have envisioned if not for taking that step outside the box.

    Sexuality is meant to be explored, the legal avenue of this exploration at Sheri’s is the best and safest way to satisfy ones inner most curiosities as well as fantasies. Thus, this topic sheds a light on sex and the sex industry making you want to further explore.

  5. cortigiana_eva says:

    Human beings are sexual creatures by design and as such, we constantly think about it. Sex sells because we crave it. It just so happens that beyond craving it we are now more open to exploring our sexuality.

    A sexual encounter can satisfy an emotional need when there is a connection (chemistry) between two people. It’s magical and addicting, so why not pay a fee for a professional legal prostitute? Someone who is willing to satisfy your every sexual fantasy? Someone who enjoys giving and receiving sexual pleasure but doesn’t require monogamy. A legal prostitute will be disease free, discreet and quite possibly as satisfied as a client with the whole experience.

    Sex isn’t wrong given all of the health benefits so why should paying for sexual services be considered wrong? Think of us as your personal trainer / sex therapist, we give you a workout, stress relief and satisfaction all at once. Sex sells because it’s good for you.

    Lets compare it to a healthy smoothie… Jamba Juice for instance. They offer a variety of mouth watering delicious treats that are good for you. Granted you can take care of your craving on your own by making a smoothie at home but it’s never as satisfying as when you walk into a friendly store front, greeted by a beautiful smile and then given exactly what you asked for without having to clean up the mess.

    Case in point, come to Sheri’s and have a deliciously great time

  6. allissa says:

    I am amazed how the rise of technology and the mainstreaming of sex is letting us have our desires right at our fingertips. Pole dancing isn’t just for the strippers, you can take pole-dancing classes, to please your lover or as exercise! You can have live porn in minutes, when it wasn’t that long ago it was taboo to have a playboy hiding underneath your bed. Now you can look at pictures, read blogs, and even see a video of a Sheri’s Ranch lady and decide you would like to take the time to go meet that lovely lady and satisfy your needs without taking the risk of going to see an illegal escort because it may seem more accessible. Our new advertising and using social media is making us more accessible and giving people more knowledge and insight about brothels. People are learning other options to explore their sexual feelings. Thank you for the great blog!

  7. Ernest says:

    Sex sells because we people think and fantasize about it every time. But, it is difficult for some people to find the right person or people who can give us what we want sexually. That explains why people travel to Las Vegas and certain other places for a sex vacation.

    I do not think it really matters even if we are dating or married to someone.

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