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People Becoming Desensitized to Sex in Ads … Similar to Porn?

Over a 20-year span, the use of sexual material or sexy imagery in advertisements across the gamut from beverages to financial services nearly doubled.

Why the growth in sex in advertising? A recent Psych Central explains that marketers realize that people are geared automatically to stop and pay attention to sexual content, so ads with people in sexy clothing or sexual positions get people to look.

The concept sounds simple, but the overall growth toward sex in print ads could be leading to groups of people who are more desensitized toward sexual imagery and even come to expect it. Teens and young adults’ perceptions, especially males, may be a demonstration of deep shifts in opinion toward sex across societal groups. It could also lead to a desensitization that means consumers may need more and more sex-based ads to respond.

For the study, University of Georgia researchers looked at more than 3,200 magazine ads in mainstream magazines from 1983, then 10 years later in 1993, and finally in 2003. Around one out of five used sex as a key element in the ad.

Interestingly, the sex-based imagery is most frequently used for products that are typically bought without much thought or pre-planning, items grouped in the impulse-driven category. However, today even medicines and travel-related products also featured sex in the ads.

Alcohol, especially, carries heavy ties to sexual imagery in ads. Researchers said that more than one-third of alcohol ads feature sex-related pictures. The overall trend has been carried forth through multiple platforms, including video-based online ads and ads that appear across smartphones – causing concern from experts about the ways people increasingly need more sex-based images to grab their attention from a sea of other similar ads.

The desensitization effect could be compared to the reality that people who view pornographic images online over and over soon need more and more of the material to get the desired effect. What was considered “sexy” 25 years ago in a print ad – such as a knee or a shoulder – has escalated to images addressing sexual intercourse and more exposed areas, especially toward women featured in the ads.

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