Sex Sells

Sex Sells

Before they left the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were told to “be fruitful and multiply.” That is probably the oldest euphemism for sex still in use today.

Sex is a natural act. If no one ever did it, no one would be here. Even your mother had sex.

Wars have been fought over sex going back at least as far as the Trojan War. Paris did not carry Helen from Sparta to Troy because she was a good cook.

Long before European monarchs sent their off-spring to marry the off-spring of other monarchs to cement peace treaties and trade agreements that practice was well known in other older cultures. The participants often had not met until shortly before the wedding and certainly did not love each other in any real sense of the word. The arrangement might best be called “diplomatic sex”.     

I used to intersperse discussions of sex and sexual situations into my lectures to my freshman Economics students. The first thing I learned about teaching Economics was that I needed to find a way to keep the students awake. Discussions about sex always kept their attention.

I used the model of a displaced persons camp in Thailand as an example of how currency is developed and how wealth is accumulated. I had a friend who escaped Saigon in1975 and who spent 14 months in such a camp until he was allow to immigrate to the US. From him, I got a pretty good idea of what went on in the camp.

I asked my students to hypothesize a camp with 100 men and 100 women. One half of the population was married and the other half single. Each received the same rations every day; a bowl of rice, some small amount of protein and some vegetables. Women with small children were given a small container of milk. Every other day everyone got a pack of cigarettes. The cigarettes quickly became the camp currency.

Some women would get together and combine their ingredients into a soup. Combined with water, the ingredients were more filling. Some of the women would drink their milk and nurse their children seeking to benefit both bodies from the same amount.

I asked the students who, at the end of every month had the most cigarettes. Who did the best at monetizing their horrific existence? 

Answer: The women who were willing to sell their sexual favors had the most cigarettes. They traded those cigarettes and their sexual favors with the guards for extra rations. There are always willing customers for sex. Some of those men would take cigarettes from their wives to pay for it. There is a reason they call prostitution the world’s oldest profession.

In upper level courses I would often assign Richard Posner’s Sex and Reason for extra credit. Posner, an economist and Federal Judge, became interested in the subject when he realized that he was being asked to judge cases involving sex and sexual situations and motives when all he really knew about sex was from his own experience.

The economist in Posner suggested that the highest value that society places on sex comes with marriage. Given the overall cost, both financial and emotional, that comes with a marriage I think he was probably correct. When a couple splits up because of financial problems I suspect their sex life wasn’t so good at the same time. 

Following the economic logic of Posner’s thinking I would ask students how they would analyze this problem.  Assume a consumer in search of a particular sex act was in Honolulu. To acquire the service he sought legally, he might fly to Las Vegas where the sex act costs $500 or to Thailand where it might cost $10. Assuming the travel and ancillary costs where identical would the consumer fly east or west from Honolulu?     

Everything about classical economics suggests that the consumer would seek out the bargain price.  Theory clearly indicates that he would fly to Thailand where he would get more bang for his buck. (I truly apologize, but that pun wrote itself.)

But the rational, logical answer might not be the correct answer. Nothing about sex is rational and that is the point.

When he coined the phrase the “medium is the message” in 1964, Marshall McLuhan was talking about the medium of television which was still quite new.  At that time the content of everything on TV was very restricted and censored.  I can’t discuss the sexual content on TV at that time because there wasn’t any.

Lucille Ball was not allowed to share a bed with her TV husband even though she was married to him in real life. The censors would not let her tell him that she was pregnant on TV. The censors were concerned about offending the advertisers. If anyone in the audience had met Lucy in real life they would probably have said “congratulations.”

As time went on there was an ever evolving boundary between good taste and titillation. David Hasselhoff was, at one time, the most popular actor in the world. People did not watch BayWatch for its thought provoking scripts. They watched because all of the actors, male and female, looked good in their bathing suits. 

The marketplace evolved from sexual innuendo to explicit sex. Early on, cable TV was often expensive. Cable TV subscriptions exploded after HBO started airing uncut versions of R rated films after midnight.

Advertising has always exploited women. At the auto show in NY the new models of cars were displayed next to attractive female models.  Models in advertisements were described as “pretty” or “attractive” people.  Models in ads were always encouraged to “show a little skin” to help sell the product.  

I help companies raise capital. I use my blog articles and Linkedin posts to offer my services to a competitive marketplace. I focus on my years of experience and pragmatic advice. You will never, ever see me in a post or article wearing a Speed-O. Maybe I am behind the times.

Economics teaches that people will allocate their resources first to the things that they need most, food, shelter, clothing and transportation. What is left they will allocate to medical expenses, entertainment and so on. In many ways our consumer driven economy relies upon how much consumers will spend with their disposable income on things they really don’t need.

Sex and the City portrayed intelligent, successful women who enjoyed sex and who sought it out. It also featured a lot of high-end fashion. Advertisers paid top dollar to reach its audience. People who buy these products spend a lot of their disposable income.

Our economy supports multi-billion dollar fashion and cosmetics industries. I would ask my students if anyone thought it was necessary for a woman to spend $300 for bottle of perfume to get a man into bed. Enough bottles of expensive perfume are sold each year that a lot of women seem to think so. That is the power of advertising. 

What message would Marshall McLuhan see in the current medium of the internet?  What scholarly thoughts would he have confronted by the data that shows that day after day, year after year, one the most visited sites in the world is PornHub?

PornHub is banned from several of their potentially largest markets. If available everywhere PornHub would give Amazon a run for its money for the number one site visited every day. Think about that.

The Kardashian empire owes its origin to an explicit sex tape. Streaming services have brought explicit sex to our cell phones. Why watch a film with casual nudity that hints at sex when on another channel you can watch people actually “doing it”?

Is nothing too “dirty” in the media today for an advertiser to be reluctant to hand over their money? Apparently not.

How long will it be until sex permeates the world of finance? Investors have traditionally been motivated by fear and greed. How much longer will it take until they are motivated by lingerie and lace?

Will Goldman Sachs invest in a chain of gentlemen’s clubs to entertain clients? Will it issue a research report suggesting that an investment in Hooters will be more profitable than an investment in McDonald’s because the hamburgers are better?  

I wish I was still teaching today, because boy, would the lectures be fun.

Perhaps Woody Allen understood it best when he said: Sex is only dirty if you are doing it right. 

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