Sex Sells? The Role of Female Agency in Sexualized Advertisements


  • Matthias Keller Orcid
  • Mirella Walker
  • Leonie Reutner


Advertising with sexualized female models is a commonly used technique in the advertisement industry. While “sex sells” is often successful in eliciting positive responses from male consumers, it often elicits negative responses from female consumers. On the one hand, female consumers might perceive sexualization as lacking in value (i.e., as a cheap display of sexuality lacking any kind of commitment). On the other hand, they might perceive sexualization as lacking in agency (i.e., as the model being displayed as an object rather than a subject). In two studies we investigate whether it is the lack of value or the lack of agency in sexualization that leads to more negative evaluations by young female perceivers. We manipulated the slogan in a sexualized advertisement so that it either adds value to sex (but does not add agency to the model) or so that it adds agency to the model (but does not add value to sex). Furthermore, we investigate the role of relatedness between the consumer and model with two advanced methodological approaches manipulating the facial characteristics of the model in the advertisement. In Study 1, we manipulated relatedness via perceived familiarity of the model’s face, whereas in Study 2, we manipulated relatedness via actual similarity between the perceivers’ and the model’s face in the advertisement. Results indicate that the lack of agency rather than the lack of value leads to negative evaluations by female consumers. This effect was pronounced if the advertisement model was relatable to the consumers.

Author Biography

Matthias Keller

University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland