If sex sells, who's buying?
Unless you're utterly cut off from pop culture, commerce and electronic media, you're inundated with sexed-up messages designed to entice you into a commercial liaison.
You can wake to the Howard Stern radio show, replete with a regular guest list of porn stars and nympho wannabes.
Turn on the TV for the morning weather report. If you hit the right station, you'll hear talk of high temps and low pressure systems from a flirty weather bunny.
On the drive to work, any number of mostly naked women will beckon to you from billboards along the highway. Click through your e-mail and dozens of raunchy mass e-mails for porn, sexy foreign brides or male "enhancements" will fill your inbox.
Thumb through the sports pages over lunch, at least in Chicago, and you'll come upon ads for strip clubs, escort services and gratuitous swimsuit photos.
Stop at the 7-Eleven for a Big Gulp, and you face a dizzying array of colorful smutty mags behind the counter.
Looking for a workout? Look no further than Flirty Girl Fitness, a new Chicago exercise featuring the hot new pole-dancing craze.
Turn on the E! channel for an evening of TV viewing and you can watch the "True Hollywood Story" of Jenna Jameson, star of erotic films, or see Hugh Hefner's blonde trio of girlfriends cavort merrily on "The Girls Next Door." Stay up too late, and a Girls Gone Wild infomercial will certainly wake you up (get two DVDs, including the all-new College Girls Gone Wild, for just $9.99).
Various news outlets and authors in recent years have tried to put into perspective the trend toward a sexed up society. Porn has gone soft around the edges. "Porn is on a pop pedestal," according to BrandNoise, a blog for those in the marketing game, and adult-film actresses are mainstreaming into pop culture. Sexy isn't dirty. The latest piece on the matter, from The Associated Press, suggests "the pervasiveness of porn has made sexiness - from subtle to raunchy - a much-sought-after attribute online, at school and even at work."
As a commerce-based culture, much of this rampant sexiness is driven by the advertising media. You may think you remember a time when sex was missing from our sales pitches - but you'd be wrong.
And you'll be interested to know, the allure of sexual marketing was stoked almost 100 years ago by a woman.
But first, let's consider the very unsexy Ben Franklin.
He was among the first to change the nature of advertising in budding America. Ever the originator, our beloved revolutionary, politician, philosopher, inventor and publisher put advertisements - simple explanatory text - next to editorial copy in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.
For about 100 years after Franklin, little changed in advertising.
But the rise of mass production spawned new efforts to motivate customers. As the 1800s closed, cigarette makers started to use sexual imagery - they put naked women on their packages. At the turn of the century, the growth of early department stores prompted zealous mass-market advertising.
That, in turn, begot the ad agencies.
One such agency, J. Walter Thompson, employed a woman named Helen Lansdowne.
Among the firm's clients was the Andrew Jergens Co., which had bought a product called Woodbury's Facial Soap in 1901. Its package featured the visage of Dr. John Woodbury, a dermatologist, who invented the soap.
Woodbury looked a bit like a monkey.
His soap didn't sell too well.
Eventually, Lansdowne came up with a slogan for an ad campaign: "A Skin You Love to Touch." The ads in the Ladies' Home Journal featured paintings of elegant ladies posed romantically with admiring men who looked over them with an obvious longing.
Soap sales took off.
Advertising historians, according to the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, call this suffragette's ad campaign the first to use sex appeal as a sales pitch.
Lansdowne and the women she hired defied the gender roles of the time. With no small irony, they can be credited with setting in motion the salesmanship that's come into full fleshy bloom we see today.
Advertising is designed not just to inform but to influence behavior, to compel you to buy something or switch brands. It should come as no surprise to anyone that our ultra-commercialized culture - Super Bowl ads are highly anticipated "entertainment" now, for mercy's sake - exerts influence well beyond consumer behavior.
Lifestyles are being patterned on the sexual exhibitionism now dominating our ad media.
And we're all buying.