Remember the hymen? The hymen is that flap of skin that “seals” the vagina until a woman has sexual intercourse for the first time. Supposedly one could tell whether a girl/woman was a virgin by whether her hymen was “intact.” (It bears repeating that neither of these things are true: it doesn’t “seal” the vagina and is not a sign of virginity at all.)

Because an intact hymen signaled virginity, and virginity has been considered very important, preserving and protecting the hymen was, at one time, an important task for girls and women. You can imagine how tricky this made the marketing of that brand new product: the tampon. Early marketing made an effort to dispel the idea that sticking just anything up there de-virginized you. It worked. (In fact, some partially credit tampon manufacturers for the de-fetishization of the hymen that’s occurred over the last 60 years.)

We still see tampon marketing addressing the question. Here’s a link to a website where it’s a FAQ and here’s an example of an advertisement from the ’70s ’90s:


Selected text:

I really wanted to use tampons, but I’d heard you had to be, you know, ‘experienced.’  So I asked my friend Lisa.  Her mom is a nurse so I figured she’d know.  Lisa told me she’d been using Petal Soft Plastic Applicator Tampax tampons since her very first period and she’s a virgin.  In fact, you can use them at any age and still be a virgin.

See this post, too, on the marketing of tampon to women in the workforce (wearing pants!) during World War II.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Laura A., of Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and Commercial Sex, has an interesting post about the film Zinda LaashBollywood’s Norms for Dhandewalis that explores portrayals of sex workers in some Indian films.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Will M. sent in these spots, by Rethinking Autism, designed to counter misinformation about autism:

Sex sells, I guess. Or, as we’ve discussed before, women’s sexual objectivity and men’s sexual subjectivity sells.

Also see these controversial faux-ransom notesaimed at drawing awareness to autism and other cognitive conditions.


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Animals Awake, a Dutch organization for animals akin to PETA in the U.S., “takes a page from [their] playbook,” according to David at Adfreak.   This commercial, in which a stripper is brutally murdered in front of a live audience, is so shocking that my first I thought was that it was a parody. It’s not.

Major major major trigger warning:

The critique, of course, is that Animals Awake is contributing to an atmosphere in which violence against women is ubiquitous (see Jezebel, for example).  But I actually think that this commercial works in that we are (I hope) genuinely horrified by the murder at the end.  I don’t think it normalizes violence against women like so many other ads/media/products do (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for examples).

BUT it does normalize the connection between violence and sex.  There is absolutely no reason why the person murdered in this ad had to a stripper.  There is no reason to spend the first half of the commercial titillating us, only to have it suddenly turned into a horror show.  There’s absolutely no connection.  But because sex and violence are so frequently linked in the American imagination, it actually took me a few minutes of thinking about it to remember that.  And I’m kind of horrified that, in my mind, sex and violence go together like peas and carrots.  This ad only reinforces that connection.

Sorry I made you watch it.

More images of sexualized violence here, here, here, here, here, here, here here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Here’s another PSA, this one from the U.K., with exactly the same idea.

UPDATE: In the comments, jeffliveshere points out that the commercial is based on a pun:

I agree that the sex and violence connection is unnecessary–but, to be clear, there is wordplay involved–“stripping fish” is apparently a technical term for removing the guts of fish…

Okay, so maybe there isn’t “absolutely no connection.” Even so?


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Genderkid sent in a link to a story in The Morning News about the Teen and Transgender Comparative Study, an art installation by Charlie White at the Hammer Museum in L.A. A description from the story:

The series is a correlation of two stages of transformation, pairing teen girls (12-14) with like adult [transgender] male-to-female…

More from The Morning News:

In the images in White’s series, both figures are blossoming into womanhood, though each along a different path. As observers, however, we have been taught to view the subjects in much the same way: with sheer terror.

For just as the original 1950s Invasion of the Body Snatchers warned of Communism’s impending doom, and stories of men with hooks were concocted to frighten young girls from riding in cars with boys, so often have Hollywood summer comedies acted as cautionary tales for the male who would cast his desire toward either the pubescent or transgendered woman. Because in the right skirt or the right application of makeup, each has proved alluring to our hero…

Indeed, both sexy underage girls and transgender women who “fool” unsuspecting men are often portrayed as threats to (straight, adult) men. The “Lolita” figure is long-standing, and portrayals such as the Ally McBeal plotline in which a man falls in love with a transgender woman without knowing she is trans present the possibility of men being “fooled” into having sexual or even long-term romantic relationships with a transgender woman. Both teen girls and trans women are threatening and can get a guy in trouble.

Of course, we’re more accepting of one of these types of trouble than the other, and we shouldn’t be surprised that trans individuals who are “discovered” may face dire consequences for “fooling” men who have an intense investment in a rigid type of heterosexual identity and fear ridicule by peers, such as the three men who killed a transgender teen in California. (And I don’t mean to imply here that women don’t ever feel uncomfortable with or attack trans individuals, but the murders I’m aware of all included male perpetrators.)

Anyway, it’s a pretty fascinating set of images. Thanks, genderkid!

UPDATE: Commenter EGhead says,

This analysis also neglects that society insistently refuses to acknowledge transgendered women as women, even though they are, while insistently acknowledging girls as women, even though they aren’t.

Fair enough–I think that’s a good point.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

And while we’re at it…

Another theme re-emerged among the safer sex ads that Julie C. pointed us to: the use of insects arachnids and reptiles to symbolize sexually transmitted infectiousness (you might have already seen a preview here).

After the jump, partly because of the creepiness factor:


Tracy J. sent in this ad aimed at encouraging women to get pap smears to check for cervical cancer (originally found here, but the page was taken down, so Ashley in the comments thread found us this cached page):


And along with the ad she offered this great commentary:

The message is essentially that pap tests have the potential to save the lives of women, but rather than pointing out that, you know, this is good cause… women deserve the opportunity to live a long and meaningful life in whatever way they may wish, or whatever… [But this isn’t the message, instead] they use the ad to scare us into thinking, “if all our women were to die, well then who would we objectify? men? gasp! wouldnt that be horrible”…

…it also sends a very clear message that one of the requirements of women in our North American society is to stand as objects for our admiration. Of course this is only certain kinds of women as this ad could easily be used for some sort of diet pill with an ‘overweight’ woman replacing this man with the statement “the world needs skinny women.”

This is very much like the breast cancer awareness efforts that revolve around how hot boobs are (see here, here, here, and the bottom of this post).


Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Given how common they are, ads that use a woman in a sexy pose for no good reason don’t really surprise me anymore. But every once in a while I come across one that makes me do a double-take, such as this advertisement for gold coins:


Really? A woman in what appears to be a sexually aroused state? Who can apparently be the “trophy in your collection,” a statement which is all kinds of creepy? I also like the naturalization of current female beauty standards–thin, long-legged blond women who will lie around in lingerie and heels are “just more attractive”! It’s, like, a universal law, just the way it is.

Ugh. That is all.