America the sexualized

Sex has not always played a large role in the media, but that has changed in obvious ways; hugely busty, mostly naked women advertising hamburgers is a relatively new concept.

Today, images of scantily-clad men and women are used to sell products, promote ideas and attract attention. According to Nielson statistics, ABC’s Desperate Housewives — full of provocative scenes, but no actual nudity – is the most popular network TV show among children ages 9-12.

Richard Taflinger, associate clinical professor of communication at WSU, said sex entered the mainstream media in the 1960s, a time when a huge portion of TV and movie audiences were youth in rebellion of doing things their parents’ way in a broad, generational sense.

“Young people loved it, and old people hated it,” said Taflinger, adding that the ‘old people’ belonged to the generation who had already made sex more mainstream than the generation before them, many of whom still held Victorian-era views of dress and etiquette that were far more visually conservative.

He said the invention of the birth control pill brought upon the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, since women could now have sex undeterred by threat of pregnancy.

Media and the sexual revolution influenced each other. Laurie Smith, clinical associate professor of psychology, said the media works to drive social agendas by simply making sex normal. In this case, sexual themes in TV shows and movies have allowed women to express themselves more than in the past.

“As women gain more and more control of their lives, the sexuality gap is slowly closing,” Smith said.

The normalization of sex and the advent of effective birth control measures, brought about a change in how everyone approached sex.

“Women would turn down sex in fear of becoming pregnant before the pill,” Taflinger said. “Now, they could have sex as much as they wanted, which was, in many cases, just as much as men.”

And it didn’t take long for the media to realize that sex had a very practical purpose as well when it came to selling products.

Jefferey Joireman, associate professor of marketing, said when exposed to arousing images, men tend to discount future outcomes of the decision and think completely in the present.

“When men are exposed to attractive women, men’s minds want immediate gratification,” Joireman said. “They also pay more attention to high-status items.”

He said attractive women seen advertising high-status items like watches or cars cause instant arousals in the minds of men, which gets transferred into the want to buy whatever the product is.