Monday, August 30, 2021

Does Sex Sell Books?


The old adage “sex sells” may no longer be true for certain industries and cultures, but it certainly is true when it comes to the arts, media, and books.

At least I think it does.

Of course, this is all subjective. Who is to say what even constitutes sex in an ad? For instance, is an image of merely being pretty or youthful a qualifier to say they are sexy -- or is it about using their sexuality to sell something?

There is no one standard of look for being sexy, attractive, or fit.

Perhaps a form-fitting dress crosses the line for some, while others need overt images of revealing body parts. Regardless of what one wears or doesn’t wear, context and intentionality are important elements for an ad selling sex or using sex to sell something. What they say, how they say it, how they move or position themselves, their surroundings, and lighting can figure into things.

A June Business News Daily story says: “Magazine ads featuring sex are on the rise.”

Advertisers know sex can sell. Some brands have been built around it — beauty and health products, fitness, clothing, perfume, shoes, lingerie, jewelry, vacations, some cars, music, film... shall I go on?

Is all of this sex imagery good or bad — or neither?

You certainly don’t want to objectify women and you don’t want to sexualize things unnecessarily. We have body images, eating disorders, and mental health to think about — both for models and actors, but also consumers. One should be able to sell something without a pair of 36D’s popping in your face.

On the other hand, sex, sexuality, and the human body form is naturally craved. We are all animals. Regardless of our educational degree or roles in society, business, or family, in the end, many of us just want to feel loved and sexually gratified.

What sex sells now is sex itself. Sex is the product.

Music is sold with sex. The bigger the ass, the more downloads.

Newspapers are sold with sexy images of celebrities.

National TV news outlets. Many, many news anchors and talk show hosts are beautiful. They flash teeth and legs. Even the weather person is attractive.

Magazines attach themselves to images of beautiful people.

The movie industry at times is just a few shades away from the porn industry.

Ballet?  It is a dancing sex show.

Look at most new streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, Hulu, and Amazon. So many have gratuitous scenes of sex or sexual situations. It is clearly part of a quota system that bakes nudity into their equation for viewership. I am not complaining. Free speech. Plus, I never tire of seeing naked bodies. No apologies there.

But even a discussion like this blog post of sex and beauty can be taboo today. A guy complimenting a woman on her dress could be grounds for firing. We are in sensitive times, seeking to weed out centuries of bad practices, but risking throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Social media can work both towards promoting sex and sexuality, as we see an explosion of porn and instafluencer beauties, while it also shuns anything sexual and goes into attack mode on just a rumor of a tiny incident. We live in a paradox of extremes.

In the #metoo era we rightfully shun casting-couch practices in all industries and settings. We abhor hearing models and actresses who feel pressured to sleep their way into roles and we revile the people in powerful positions who rape, assault, or marginalize the people they should treat with respect and fairness. But an expression of open sexuality in our arts or ads does not necessarily conflict with a get-tough attitude on behalf of #metoo reformers valiantly seeking a reasonable end to despicable, criminal behavior.

You certainly can have sex and sexuality displayed in the arts, advertising, and elsewhere. The key is to have boundaries — legal and moral ones.

Certainly charities, government agencies, schools, hospitals, and many others do not need, nor should they ever use, sex to sell anything. Sexy imagery is not what sells feeding the homeless, encouraging vaccinations, or choosing a private school — but it seems to fit right in when you sell a dress, romantic getaway, or beer.

The book world sells sex — and sex sells books:

Let’s start with book covers. Have a nice body or pretty face? Splash it on the cover.

Marketing tools, from videos, social media, and author web sites use attractive people to fill their screens up with their images.

Subject matter. How many books involve sex, whether they be fiction or non-fiction? Many.

In most cases where sex, sexuality, and beauty are used to market something, it seems that an image of a woman is used. Why? This is true even when more women are the ones purchasing the products.

Women, it seems, buy because they want to see themselves as the woman in the ad or who is associated with a brand. They want to feel as desired as the woman in the ads are desired by other men. The women consumers see beauty and sexuality as an empowering tool. They are not feeling objectified by it; they are owning it. Their body, their choice. They define feminism as having the power, right, and confidence to be sexual on their terms.

Sex in ads and the arts, provided it avoids exploitation and doesn’t body shame, is going to be around a long time.

It has been going on for a long time. As early as 150 years ago, in 1871, Pearl Tobacco used a topless woman’s image on its packaging. She must have been smoking hot.

“In terms of capturing attention, sex works,” said a Psychology Today article in 2017.  We can showcase sex and not be sexist. We can admire beauty by recognizing it comes in many forms.

But there is no denying sex is on our brains:

Pornhub, the leading porn website, gets 130 million visitors daily.

The Journal of Sex Research says men think about sex 19 times per day and women 10 times.

Millions of people hourly stream sex-laced content on Netflix and the like. Sex is everywhere.

Look at a Kim Kardashian. She has a billion-dollar butt simply because she has made a brand out of it. She is not my type, but someone values her ass-driven lifestyle. Power to her!

So, when in doubt when it comes to writing or marketing your book, throw some sex into it. You won’t regret it.


Need Book PR Help?

Brian Feinblum, the founder of this award-winning blog, can be reached at He is available to help authors promote their story, sell their book, and grow their brand. He has 30 years of experience in helping thousands of authors in all genres.


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About Brian Feinblum

Brian Feinblum should be followed on Twitter @theprexpert. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2021. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America. For more information, please consult: 


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