Sex sells. We’ve all heard those words many times, usually when a young starlet embraces a grown-up and raunchier image – looking at you Rihanna and Miley! It’s never a phrase levelled at the boys, is it? Nevertheless, from Game of Thrones’ sexposition to underwear ads, the commercial viability of intercourse is endless. Despite this, there remains a sense of shame, as if sex remains our dirty little secret. Is our prudishness blinding us from real opportunity?
Mention the name ‘Durex’ and the majority of people will know what you’re talking about. Durex has huge brand visibility and is the biggest seller of condoms in the UK, distributing over one billion products every year. Unsurprisingly, it holds a 26% global market share.
However, this wasn’t enough for the company. As its global senior brand manager elaborates, Durex want to establish themselves as a sexual wellbeing brand, focusing on the physical and emotional aspects of sex. Embracing this as their social purpose, Durex have run multiple campaigns including the #DoNotDisturb campaign which encouraged couples to relinquish their phones on holiday and experience how it affects their intimacy. Additionally, ‘When It’s On, It’s On’ features groups of young adults discussing safe sex and its misconceptions. The latest campaign takes a stand against painful sex for women, advocating them to discuss it with their partners.
Public perception of Durex is changing as a result – their equity trackers show that they’re increasingly being seen as a sexual wellbeing brand. As countless studies have demonstrated, people want to buy from brands they believe in. Durex is evolving from a necessity product to something people actively choose. The company is also partnering with charities – they campaigned alongside Planned Parenthood at the Rio Olympics. Furthermore, Durex is promoting sex education at schools, providing educational tools for teachers. By overcoming the perceived stigma of being associated with Durex, both Planned Parenthood and UK schools have benefitted hugely from these partnerships.
But, what about companies with a slightly seedier perception? Amid the ongoing tensions between America and China, Trump has ordered Chinese holding company Beijing Kunlun Tech to sell Grindr on the basis of national security or cease US operations. Many industry figures believe the app will sell between $250m and $500m for good reason – Grindr is the most successful and largest gay media company in the world. Its engagement levels are twice that of its nearest competitor, Instagram. LBGTQ+ culture is turning mainstream: see the runaway success of shows such as Queer Eye, RuPaul’s Drag Race and Glee. Within that culture, Grindr has a 95% brand awareness.
Of course, Grindr is perceived as primarily a hook up app, an easy way to get laid. However, the company has taken recent steps to improve its image. Users now receive regular updates about LBGTQ+ rights from around the globe – a recent Grindr campaign encouraged users to protest against Chechnya’s ‘gay purge.’ Users can now choose their preferred pronouns and configure their settings to alert them every three month for a sexual health check-up.
Finally, what about the companies with arguably the smuttiest reputation of them all – porn? Is it possible for pornography to have social purpose? In some instances, yes. For example, Pornhub has launched a new initiative called Beesexual, designed to raise awareness over the dwindling bee population. Whilst the pun is somewhat amusing (birds and the bees anyone?), this isn’t the first instance of social purpose the site has displayed. Before its videos, Pornhub broadcasts sexual health infomercials, alerting their audience to the importance of safe sex, amongst other pertinent issues. With so many teenagers learning about sex from porn, this can only be a good thing.
Moreover, pornography has a reputation of exploiting its performers, reducing them to sexual objects. Whilst sexual gratification is part and parcel to the industry, is it possible for viewers to be aroused by its stars whilst still viewing them as human? Cindy Gallop believes so. In 2009, she launched MakeLoveNotPorn, a site which aims to counteract the easy access hardcore videos online; videos which have resulted in an entire generation believing that’s how you have sex. MakeLoveNotPorn uploads videos from real couples from across the globe with a focus on the caring, nurturing aspect of sex. These uploads are for everyone – they don’t just appeal to the basest desires of the heterosexual male gaze.
Likewise, youtuber Davey Wavey launched a subscription-based site called Himeros, focusing on similar themes for the gay community. After realising that most gay men mimic the actions of gay porn within their sex lives, Davey decided to combat this by setting up a site which acts as an instruction manual on how to appreciate one’s own body and how to pass that acceptance and love onto one’s sexual partner.
This link between activism and pornography is spreading across disciplines. Uncensored is a festival, dedicated to exploring the intersection between porn, art and activism. With a focus on feminist and queer perspectives, the event aims to unite individuals who believe the boundaries of these categories are restrictive – the multiplicity of sex and social purpose should be celebrated.
As we can see, companies involved with sex are taking steps to embrace social purpose and embed it within their brand story. Furthermore, whether we’re too embarrassed to admit it or not, these businesses provide services which are being consumed by millions. As audiences turn away from charities and demand brands to lead the charge against society’s ills, it would be foolish to ignore the contribution of the sex industry and to be afraid of partnering with them to achieve change. Only by disrupting the industry and remaining innovators for positive change do brands and charities stay ahead of the curve. Sex sells – maybe it also has the power to make the world a better place.