Is Selling Sex Worth The Cost?
'Sex sells' is a popular term. It's mostly popular because it's true. It's also very honest. This is about the true cost of selling something with intrinsic value through sexualization, but let's touch on a few light particulars of WHY sex sells, shall we?
Humans need very little to survive, physically. Food, water, shelter. Emotionally and mentally, however, humans need all sorts of things to survive. Stimulation, acceptance, attention, validation. Part of the emotional and mental survival of a human is sexual -- because of the hormones that sexual release triggers, we perceive a physical luxury as love, which translates into acceptance. However, sex is also exciting. It fulfills many emotional needs, as well as physical impulses, so, as physical and emotional beings, we're drawn to it in a way that even money cannot draw us... This makes it the perfect marketing tool.
So. We know why sex sells. But this is an article about the COST of selling a sport, especially a sport like mountain biking, through sex. What IS the cost? Why isn't it okay? And what can we do about it?
First, let's address the cost: mountain biking is a rad fucking sport. It's the ultimate sense of freedom for us cubicle-bound, student-loan paying adults who yearn for the free flying days of our childhood. Remember when you got your first set of wheels? Do you recall that sense of power and creative flow? Did you ever stay out past your bedtime, riding until the sun dipped below the horizon or the city lights blinked out? On a time schedule of your own, jumping and spinning and sprinting and stopping. Weaving in and out of traffic, launching into ponds or just meandering down the roads where you grew up? We built jumps and dug holes. Aftermarket parts consisted of spray paint, fancy grips and new tubes, with the occasional cardboard fender taped on or playing cards between the spokes. That was freedom. That's what mountain biking feels like now, even as 'grown ups' shackled to house payments, phone bills and grocery lists. Mountain biking attracts those of us not scared by a little pain. It draws those of us willing to put in the work to get to the top of the hill. We're sucked in by the promise of freedom, of delight, of the moments that pass between rays of sunlight and the smell of damp dirt. That is mountain biking to those of us who love it simply because it's biking.
Mountain biking, in its pure form, a sport that has no phallic similarities or inherent sexual relation, attracts a certain crowd. But when you add sex and naked women and the mainstream marketing bullshit that everything else is sold with, you lose the soul of riding. By sexualizing mountain biking, we leave no room for the mention of the freedom, or the work, or the confidence or the pure, absolute JOY of riding. Because sex shouts so loudly that none of those other things can come through. And little pieces of the soul, of the REASON we all ride, are lost... At that point, we're not sharing the true meaning of mountain biking through advertising. We're not ambassadors of the sport. We're just snake oil peddlers, making empty promises about sexual appeal.
The second half of the negative part of selling bikes through sex is the type of people it attracts. Money is green, yes. And growth is growth, yes. But is it? The people who buy mountain bikes because of sexual marketing won't be long-term customers because they're not looking for long-term, lifetime fun. They're looking for the power that comes with something 'trendy' or 'popular'. Sure, they might try riding and fall in love with it and never look back to the days when they bought a bike because it was 'cool'... But that's a mighty big maybe. The guys and gals who get into mountain biking because it's 'sexy' are fickle -- what guarantees that they won't jump on the next bandwagon of 'coolness' and leave those 'growth patterns' and 'sales rates' that the advertisers talk about in the dust? Nothing, that's what. And THAT, that right there, is the true cost of selling mountain biking through sex... Just like anything else, we'll lose those newcomers when the next sexiest thing comes along.
That is the cost of 'sex sells'.
Let's take a look at why it's not okay (as if we needed another reason). Most often, sex is sold through very good-looking women dressed in very little clothing. We already have a gender equality gap in this country; objectifying women (or giving them the opportunity to objectify themselves) only to sell our sport is cheapening who we are as both people and as bicyclists. We are RIDERS. Regardless of gender, mountain biking is an equal-opportunity sport; it can eat you alive and it can be the best thing ever. No one gets better at mountain biking because they're good looking. No one crashes less because they have nice boobs or a great ass. Everyone falls, everyone succeeds and everyone rides. Bikes don't have gender preferences, and neither does the terrain. Why should we ruthlessly use one gender or another because of our perceived need to sell a sport to the masses? Everyone deserves equal respect, as riders and people.
Selling biking through sex isn't okay because it also sends a message to future generations of misogyny and inferiority. We have a responsibility to leave a legacy of equality and hope for those that come after us. If we exploit our sexuality for the profit of a SPORT, what are we telling our sons and daughters about themselves and their worth? What message are we sending?
The third negative of why sexualization isn't okay is this: mountain biking has some seriously rad reasons to do it, like being outside, spending time with friends, going fast, jumping big, feeling confident and having FUN. By using sex to sell mountain biking, we ignore all of the positives about this brilliant sport to perpetuate a bullshit lie based on how 'cool' mountain biking 'seems'. That right there cheapens the hell out of this beloved wheel-rolling.
So. What can we do about it? How do we fight back against the bullshit sexualization of mountain biking? First, companies and advertisers need to own up to it. How? We work harder. Photographers need to look for more creative shoot options instead of going for the tired, lazy approach of 'let's just throw a naked chick in there and call it a day'. Stop shooting crap. Stop selling crap, because it won't sell forever. Don't cheapen yourself or lowball your skillset -- if you're talented enough to be a pro photographer, you're smart enough to come up with a better creative than some naked chick standing by a bike.
As consumers, we need to step up and publicly tell these advertisers and photographers that this is not acceptable. We won't allow sex to overtake our sport. We won't exploit our girlfriends and sisters and mothers and wives. We send a very loud, very public message. How? We own it. We talk about it. On our websites, on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. We get honest. We acknowledge that sex-ing up our sport isn't going to do anything to help with long term, consistent growth. We focus on highlighting and selling the REAL assets of biking. Why do you love riding? Why is it so important to you?
Selling mountain biking through sex will fail in the long term. It will only create an angry, frustrated core and a confused, insulted mainstream. Demeaning ourselves by selling sex will only leave us empty and broke, as an industry and as people, because selling a lie only lasts so long. The real seller? The truth. Because the truth about mountain biking far outweighs any lie we could ever market.