“Wait… can we ‘offset’ sex like we offset carbon?”

“Wait… can we ‘offset’ sex like we offset carbon?”


Written by Amy Beecham

How do we solve a problem like the sexualisation of women in the media? Enter: sexuality offsetting.   

Whatever your career path, you’re probably familiar with the phrase “sex sells”. While the earliest use of a naked woman in advertising dates all the way back to 1871 and the Pearl Tobacco brand, its legacy can be seen almost everywhere from branding to TV adverts, music videos to social media.

It’s been used to market everything from clothing to alcohol, but while the images might seem harmless to some, there’s increasing concern about the impact such sexualised representation is having on women.

And while tapping into your sexual identity is undoubtedly a personal right, it’s clear that when agency around their bodies is taken away from women, we must recognise the potential damage too. 

As author Sue Unerman suggests in a blog for Campaign Live: “Yes, sex sells, but unprotected sex costs lives, curbs choices and represses opportunity, so, just as our industry has adopted carbon offsetting, it should also adopt a sexuality offsetting responsibility.”

But how might something like that ever work? The premise is actually a simple one.

In carbon offsetting, when a polluting company buys a carbon credit to make up for the greenhouse gas it has emitted, the money should be used to fund action somewhere in the world that removes the same amount of carbon out of the air. 

Sex sells – but should it?

As Unerman goes on to explain, companies that use sexuality to sell products or drive views would be subjected to a levy that would force them to deal with the unintended social consequences. 

There are currently more than 160 million women worldwide who do not have access to contraception – and it is estimated it will cost $59 billion (£52 billion) fulfil these unmet needs. However, even when contraception is available, Unerman says that cultural pressures, such as social norms, traditional gender stereotypes, prejudices and stigmas, mean that many women do not have the choices that are available to most people. This is where sexuality offsetting could make a big impact.

“This could include making a contribution to the provision of contraception in the developing world where it is not freely available, or to ensure that you are actively involved in keeping responsible contraception front of mind for young people – of every gender,” writes Unerman.

From charitable contributes to the provision of free condoms, Unerman identifies a new provocation to the media, advertising and entertainment industry to take responsibility for a better and more equal future for everyone.

As she concludes: “If you have influence in our industry, if you have a voice, you can help to make positive choice for women and girls a bigger priority, so that all women and girls can achieve their promise.

“Making this change, a change to ensure a better outcome for women and girls through media, in terms of responsibly offsetting sexuality, will ensure a more equal future for the world.”

Now that’s something we can get behind.

Images: Getty

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