It’s 6:30 in the morning on Labor Day weekend, and I am up writing because I can’t stop thinking about something, and if I don’t write about it, I’ll probably implode, exercise, or do something equally crazy.
There was a lot of chatter and outrage this month about Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMA awards, so much that as a sexologist, it caught my attention enough to watch the video (which can be viewed here). I watched this young star dance, stick her tongue out (what WAS that?), gyrate, “twerk”, and touch her crotch on stage, disturbed.
I’m not disturbed for some of the reasons that others are. Performances like these are problems for sexologists not because they are sexual, because, quite honestly, it wasn’t a sexual performance—bear with me, I’ll get to why. They’re a problem because they create negative feelings about sex in many people through the successful conflation of sex and sales. When we watch a performance like this, we know that we, or our children, are being manipulated. And it is this manipulation that we are disgusted by. We then fuse the disgust with our fears about our children’s safety and our own feelings of protectiveness around sex, a vulnerable and sacred area for many, and we become outraged. There are calls for action about “sex on TV” or “sex in the media”.
But Miley wasn’t having sex on stage, not even with herself. She was employing sexualized sales, and it worked. On August 20, Forbes reported that sales of her new track “Wrecking Ball” were at 90,000 and her song was at number 13 on the Billboard chart.
We almost never see sex in the media. If we were to see a true connection between human beings that was spontaneously and authentically sexual, whether it be a playful one, a loving one, or even just a very exciting one, most of us would find it beautiful, arousing or simply natural. But we absolutely never see this. Not even in online porn. What we are watching is not sex so much as it is a performance used to sell a product. In Miley Cyrus’s case, her handlers are selling music, and they are using her as the means to do so. In the case of porn, it is being used to sell more porn, and the products that are advertised on these sites.
We know this, and yet we don’t. The fact is, the true nature of this sales job has been so successful that much of the time the public ire becomes directed at the idea of sex, or even the depiction of sex, rather than the idea of sexualized commercialism. People become enraged about online porn. But to me, porn is not sex. It’s a sales job. I spend hours re-educating college students about the nature of sex due to the unnatural ways that the media often depicts what it is and how it’s done.
I also spend hours helping educators, therapists, and average citizens to re-examine their attitudes about sex (many of them negative and shameful) for the very same reason. We have entire classes in my field for this, called SAR (Sexual Attitude Reassessment). Most students leave a SAR class changed, some for life. Many state that it has set them free from unreasonable fears and expectations, allowing them to have a balanced view of sexuality for the first time in their lives.
This fusion of sex and sales, sexualized sales, should have another name. if it weren’t so early in the morning on a holiday weekend, I could probably come up with one. Sexmercialism? (See, I’m too sleepy.) I’ll call it sexualized commercialism and leave it at that.
Dr. Rosalyn Dischiavo is a professional health and sex educator, public speaker, former therapist, and the founder of the Institute for Sexuality Education & Enlightenment at www.instituteforsexuality.com