TIME Research

Here’s How Sexy Advertising Backfires

Researchers say that titillating content can, in fact, hurt sales‚ not help them

The first nude print ad was published in 1936 for Woodbury Soap. It featured an undressed woman lazily lying at the beach, her arm positioned at just the right angle to shield her breasts from view. It followed the old advertising adage that sex sells.

But that no longer holds true, according to a new study released by the Psychological Bulletin. Brad Bushman, a communications professor at Ohio State University and a co-author of the study, says it’s not that sex and violence don’t grab our attention—of course they do. In fact, paying attention to such things are evolutionary responses that are necessary for survival (being attuned to safety threats prepares people to protect themselves; finding opportunities for mating keep the species going).

But just because they grab our eye doesn’t mean the ad translates into sales.

“[A]dvertisers think sex and violence sell, so they buy advertising time during sexual and violent programs, and in turn producers continue to create sexual and violent programs that attract advertising revenue,” the authors write. But when a person is being shown a product—say, laundry detergent—with a sexy backdrop, it’s not the detergent that’s capturing the attention so much as the action onscreen. Sex is distracting, Bushman says. “We have a limited capacity to pay attention to cues.”

Bushman and his co-author, Robert Lull, found 1,869 articles in two databases that had historically studied consumer response to sex and violence. Researchers weeded out studies that didn’t directly address consumer response, didn’t have a control group, and didn’t look explicitly at the effects of sex and/or violence on the consumer.

“In the best case scenario, sex and violence doesn’t work,” Bushman told TIME. “For advertisers, it can actually backfire, and people will be less likely to remember your [product]. They might report being less likely to buy your product if the content of your program is violent or sexual.”

No surprise, some demographics respond differently to sexy or violent ads. Women tend to remember products from provocative ads; men tend to be distracted by sex or violence and not remember the product. Older participants were turned off by violence and sex; younger consumers were more likely to respond to it.

Still, taken together, the researchers conclude this: “Brands advertised in violent contexts will be remembered less often, evaluated less favorably, and less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent media.”

TIME Sex/Relationships

Fewer Teens Are Having Sex Than in the Past

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

New data shows the number of teenagers who have sex continues to drop

The number of teenagers who have had sex has significantly dropped over the last quarter century, new federal data shows.

The number of teens from ages 15 to 19 who have had sex dropped 14% for females and 22% for males over the past 25 years, revealed new data published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. According to the new report, which uses national survey data from 2011-2013, 44% of female teens reported having sex at least one time and 47% of men reported the same.

MORE: The Teen Birth Rate Is Now At an All-Time Low

The report shows that in the early teenage years, male teens were more likely than female teens to report having had sex, but by age 17, the rates were similar. Most teenagers said they used contraceptives. From 2011-2013, 79% of females and 84% of males said they used a contraceptive when they had sex for the first time and condoms were used most often. The data also shows that 60% of female teens said they had used withdrawal as a contraceptive method and 54% had used the pill. The CDC also reports that teenage women who did not use a contraceptive during their first sexual intercourse were twice as likely to become teen mothers compared to their peers who did use birth control.

Over the last 10 years of available data, the number of teenage girls who have used emergency contraception has also increased from 8% in 2002 to 22% in 2011–2013.

MORE: U.S. Teen Trends In Sex, Bullying, Booze and More

The new findings fall in line with other recent federal data showing the U.S. teen pregnancy and birth rate is on the decline, possibly due to a drop in sexual activity and an increased use of contraceptives. Why teenagers are reporting less sexual activity is not fully understood, but public health experts have credited the increase in contraceptive use to more education and lower costs for methods thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Still, the CDC notes in the new report that America’s rates remain higher than other developed countries.

TIME LGBT

Discrimination Against LGBT Workers Is Illegal, Commission Rules

A man waves the LGBT rainbow flag in support of gay marriage
Craig Ferguson—LightRocket via Getty Images A man waves the LGBT rainbow flag in support of gay marriage as a campaign march calling for the legalization of gay marriage passes by. (Craig Ferguson/LightRocket-- Getty Images)

The 1964 Civil Rights Act now protects gay workers from discrimination

Workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission concluded this week, in a groundbreaking ruling that provides new protections for LGBT Americans.

In a decision dated Thursday, the EEOC said that employers who discriminate against LGBT workers are violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination “based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”

In the past, courts have ruled that Title VII does not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation because it’s not explicitly mentioned in the law, but the EEOC’s ruling disputes that reasoning. “Sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee’s sex,” the EEOC concluded. The committee argued that if an employer discriminated against a lesbian for displaying a photo of her wife, but not a straight man for showing a photo of his wife, that amounts to sex discrimination.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts hinted at similar reasoning earlier this year when considering the same-sex marriage case, even though he ultimately dissented on the court’s June 26 ruling in support of gay marriage. “If Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t,” Roberts argued in April. “And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also argued this week that since courts have consistently ruled that the racial protections of Title VII apply to relationships, the sex protections should apply to relationships as well. Under Title VII, employers can’t discriminate against employees based on the races of their spouses or friends (so, for example, you couldn’t be fired for being in an interracial marriage). The EEOC’s Thursday ruling ensures that the same standard applies to sex as well, which means you can’t be fired based on whom you choose to date or marry.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was created to enforce and implement the 1964 Civil Rights Act. This new interpretation radically expands the scope of those protections.

The ruling could be seen as a victory for LGBT activists, who have been advocating for greater workplace protections for years, and have redoubled their efforts in the wake of the landmark same-sex marriage ruling last month. Presidential candidates like former Florida Governor Jeb Bush have come out in support of laws to protect LGBT workers against discrimination, saying at a recent campaign event, “I don’t think you should be discriminated because of your sexual orientation. Period. Over and out.”

Housing and employment law are seen as the next battleground for LGBT activists, but the EEOC decision suggests that LGBT workers are already covered under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which may complicate the push to pass legislation with specific protections for LGBT workers.

TIME Crime

Visa Nixes Cards as Payment Option for Online Sex Ads

The only way to post a sex ad on Backpage.com will be through Bitcoin

Visa has joined MasterCard and American Express in agreeing to withdraw as a payment option from the adult section of Backpage.com—meaning the digital currency Bitcoin will soon be the only way to advertise sex services on the site.

The move comes after Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart in Illinois asked the heads of Visa and MasterCard to withdraw as payment options on the adult section of the site, as part of his crusade to take down Backpage.com, which is widely criticized as a sex trafficking hub. Dart’s office says that Backpage.com has posted over 1.4 million ads for sex in April alone, and that many of the women being advertised are trafficking victims under the control of violent pimps.

Users must pay a small fee (usually $5-$17) to post an ad on the adult page, and Backpage.com earns $9 million in revenue per month from adult services ads alone, according to a spokesman for Dart’s office. The goal of the campaign is to make it harder for pimps and traffickers to place the ads, by removing the most convenient way to pay that small ad placement fee, forcing them to resort to Bitcoin. A request for comment from Backpage.com was not immediately returned.

“Backpage has significantly lowered the barrier to entry for would-be sex traffickers, giving them easy access to millions of johns while cloaking them in anonymity and putting all risk on the shoulders of their victims,” Dart said Wednesday in a statement. “Raising that barrier will lead to less would-be sex traffickers entering the business as well as less victims.”

Dart privately asked the CEOs to withdraw on Monday—MasterCard announced the change on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Visa followed suit. Visa is suspending the processing of payments, but a spokesman noted that a permanent removal would require a review of Backpage.com’s activities, which could take some time. But he also noted that Visa has rules preventing its card from being used for “illegal activity,” and cited the company’s “long history of working with law enforcement.”

American Express had already removed its card as a payment option on the adult section of the site before Dart made his request.

“I commend Visa, MasterCard and American Express for doing the right thing in defunding this criminal enterprise and joining us in the fight to seek justice for sex trafficking victims across the globe,” Dart said.

However, some advocates for sex workers say this change would make voluntary sex workers more vulnerable, not less. “Traffickers and third parties are going to be able to switch to different payment processors. Women (and men) using Backpage, especially those most vulnerable to exploitation with the greatest barriers to transition out of the adult industry, aren’t,” says Katherine Koster, a spokesperson for the Sex Workers Outreach Project. “Backpage (and other sites like Backpage) has historically been a low-barrier way to work indoors independently.” She says that the change in payment method would make it much more difficult for independent sex workers to get customers, which would make them more vulnerable to exploitation by third parties.

The move to get credit cards to withdraw from Backpage.com is part of a larger movement to get companies to do their part to stop sex trafficking. ECPAT, an international non-profit working to end child slavery and prostitution, has developed a set of guidelines for travel and hotel companies to help identify and assist victims of sex trafficking—hotel groups like Hilton and Wyndham, and airlines like Delta have already signed on and pledged to educate their staff members to be on the lookout for victims, and learn how to best help them.

TIME Sex

Condoms That Change Color In Contact with STD Win Tech Award

Condoms Teens Sex
Getty Images

The idea, which involves color-changing protection, remains in its very, very early stages

The old adage goes that teenagers think about sex constantly, but there are at least a few out there who have expressed a very keen interest in the particulars of safe sex.

Three British teens—two 14-year-olds and one 13-year-old—have proposed an idea for a new type of condom that could detect sexually transmitted diseases amongst intimate partners. The Washington Post explains:

There would be antibodies on the condom that would interact with the antigens of STDs, causing the condom to change colors depending on the disease…For instance, if the condom were exposed to chlamydia, it might glow green — or yellow for herpes, purple for human papilloma virus and blue for syphilis.

The proposal won the trio the top prize in the U.K.’s TeenTech Awards, and they have already reportedly been approached by condom companies.

The idea, however, is not without its imperfections. It seems unclear whether the STIs would be detected in just the user’s partner or also the user as well. In addition, there’s the awkward question of what would happen if the condom came into contact with two or more STDs—not to mention the logistical difficulties of figuring out a way to determine the color with sufficient opportunity to make use of those findings.

Nevertheless, if teens are going to think about sex, it’s tough to quibble with them spending more time thinking about ways to make is safer.

[Washington Post]

TIME psychology

10 Secrets About Sexual Satisfaction, Backed by Science

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

  • Here’s a list of scientific factors associated with sexual satisfaction.
  • What women look for in one night stands and long term relationships is very different.
  • Age difference has a big effect on how sexually satisfied husbands and wives are.
  • Here‘s a list of what keeps men and women sexually satisfied over time.
  • Increasing the amount of good sex you have is more about self-esteem than getting kinky.

Join over 190,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Birth Control

Quiz: How Effective Is Your Birth Control?

IUD birthcontrol
Photo Illustration by Mia Tramz for TIME; Corbis

Test your contraceptive IQ

Teen birth and pregnancy rates are at a record low, possibly due to teens use of better birth control methods. Do you know how effective your birth control is?

Birth control methods vary widely in terms of effectiveness and duration of use. People choose their methods for a wide variety of reasons, but recent data shows that when women are informed and counseled about different forms of contraceptives, they tend to opt for the most effective types and unintended pregnancies drop. Typical use failure rates are used to determine effectiveness, and show the rate the method fails during “typical use,” which accounts of inconsistent or incorrect use of the method (think missing a pill or a broken condom).

Guess the typical use failure rates of the birth control options below:

TIME Research

The Teen Birth Rate Is Now At an All-Time Low

TIME.com stock photos Condoms Sex
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Here's what's driving the drop in teen parenting

The teen birth rate has hit a new record low, according to federal data released on Wednesday.

Researchers from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics looked at birth certificates for the year 2014 from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories and found that the teen birth rate is the lowest ever recorded. And, for the first time in seven years, the general fertility rate in the U.S. increased.

Among teens from ages 15 to 19, the birth rate dropped 9% in 2014 to 24.2 births per 1,000 women. Since 1991, the researchers report that the birth rate for this age group has dropped 61%.

MORE: The Best Form of Birth Control

Overall, the number of U.S. births in 2014 increased 1% from the year prior. The number of women in their twenties having babies dropped 2% to a record low, while the number of women in their thirties and forties giving birth rose.

The national teen pregnancy rate has also been on a record decline. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has shown pregnancy rates among teenagers have been consistently dropping for the last two decades, and there was a 10% drop in a year from 2012 to 2013.

Some data suggests that teens are less sexually active than the past, and those that are having sex are using birth control more often. Some experts speculate that increased access to affordable birth control and better sex education have also played a role.

MORE: The Trouble With Sex Ed in the Internet Age

Teens may also be using better, more effective contraceptives, with an increasing (though still low) number of young people from ages 15 to 19 using long-acting reversible contraceptive methods like the IUD or implant. There’s also been a notable increase in the use of the birth control pill among the age group, as well as usage of more than one method.

Birth control methods like the IUD and implant are significantly more effective than other methods, including the pill and condom. The failure rate for the IUD is as low as 0.2% while the pill is 9% and the condom is 18%. New data released on Tuesday revealed that when women are counseled about all of their options, they are more likely to choose the most effective methods, and that can lead to notable declines in unintended pregnancies.

Some indirect factors could also be influencing the latest birth statistics, suggest researchers at the Guttmacher Institute. Women, for instance, are both getting married and having children later in life.

Though teen births are decreasing, the U.S. still has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world.

TIME medicine

FDA Panel Votes in Favor of ‘Female Viagra’

Whether flibanserin receives official approval remains to be seen

An FDA advisory panel on Thursday voted 18 to 6 in support of approving a drug that would help to increase libido in women who lack sexual desire.

The panel said the drug, flibanserin, should be approved if measures are taken to deal with side effects, the New York Times reports. The FDA will use the panel’s decision as a recommendation.

Flibanserin, which is owned by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, has been rejected by the FDA in the past. The drug is meant for women with low sexual desire, specifically Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), and many advocates for the drug’s approval have argued that women don’t have any drugs to treat sexual dysfunction while men have several. The FDA has had previous concerns about the drug’s side effects, which include nausea, sleepiness and, in rare cases, low blood pressure and fainting.

The drug is thought to work by targeting neurotransmitters in the brain involved with sexual desire. It temporarily lowers serotonin levels and raises the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine.

Some have argued that its benefit is slight. “I think it would be nice if a drug like this could work, having better sex is important to my patients,” Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive services at Yale School of Medicine, told TIME on Monday. “The earlier results showed it definitely increased desire, but the benefit was not overwhelming enough.”

But those who lack sexual desire said it’s worth it. Thursday’s meeting included about two hours of public testimony. Katherine Campbell, a married mother from Indiana who has not yet tried out the drug, said “critics say the improvement might only be modest, but oh what I would give for even a modest improvement.”

Whether the drug will receive approval is yet to be seen.

Read Next: Will the New ‘Women’s Viagra’ Finally Get FDA Approval?

TIME Research

Sexual Violence Against Children Is a Worldwide Problem, Study Says

New surveys show many victims do not receive help

Sexual violence against children is a global problem — and few receive supportive services exist for its victims, according to recent data released from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday.

The new numbers show at least 25% of females and 10% of males report experiencing a form of sexual violence as a child. The results come from Violence Against Children Surveys that were conducted between 2007 and 2013 among men and women ages 18 to 24 in Swaziland, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Haiti and Cambodia. The findings are published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The surveys asked about childhood sexual violence experienced before individuals turned 18. Sexual violence was defined as unwanted touching, unwanted attempted sex, pressured or coerced sex and forced sex. Girls were more likely to be victims of completed acts of unwanted sex than boys.

Among the seven countries surveyed, Cambodia had the lowest rates of reported sexual violence against girls and boys, at 4.4% and 5.6% respectively. Swaziland had the highest rates of reported sexual violence against girls, at 37.6%. Zimbabwe had the second highest rate for girls at 32.5%. Haiti had the most similar rates among both genders.

The study authors report that high levels of sexual violence experienced in children — and low levels of support afterward — can cause a cascade of lifelong struggles, including unwanted pregnancy, depression and disease. “Experiencing trauma as a child can contribute to biologic changes, such as altered hormonal responses as well as mental illness, such as depression, or other psychological changes like poor social relations and low self-esteem, all of which elevate risk for developing chronic diseases,” the study authors write.

The research has limitations, including the possibility that recall might be imperfect among those surveyed and the fact that some people in the study may not have disclosed their experiences. Still, the researchers note that understanding the prevalence of sexual violence can help in the formation of interventions for various countries.

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