The image is a plot of the sexual relationships of students at Jefferson High School occurring within the preceding 6 months

Trevor Harvey writes:

Over the past few years, society has moved stealthily from viewing sex as a commodity, to the commoditisation of sexual relationships – the ‘free availability’ of the relationship surrounding and driven by sex.

The development of technology has facilitated easier sexual relationships, including changes in pornography and sexual material. Top Ten Reviews reported in 2006 that 43% of internet users viewed porn, and 35% of all downloads were porn, while porn sales themselves have been dropping rapidly over the past few years. Technology means that anyone with a mobile camera can now be a porn star or producer.

In fact, technology has touched all aspects of sexual relationships – from user-generated content sites such as XTube, PornoTube and Gaydar, to the public spat between Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia co-founder) and Rachel Marsden (the end of whose sexual relationship was played out in Wikipedia and eBay), to the re-interpretation of pre-arranged marriages through online sites where daughters are promoted by the parents. MMOEGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Erotic Games), which provide a safe haven for people to have sex virtually, are showing a rise in numbers – showing perhaps that while sexual relationships are increasingly treated as commodities, we’re still concerned about their safety.

And for good reason. The effects on health and well-being are alarming. A 2007 BMC Public Health study showed that a third of 16 to 35-year-old men and nearly a quarter of women questioned said they drank to increase their chance of sex. HIV infection rates rose sharply (by 48%) in the US between ’05 and ’06, according to the US Center for Disease Control, and also increased (less dramatically) in Western and Central Europe in 2007, despite years of public health and education campaigns. Other disease infection rates are as alarming: the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV reported that sexually transmitted infection rates have risen rapidly over the past 12 years, with incidences of Chlamydia and HIV both tripling, gonorrhoea doubling, and syphilis increasing by twenty times.

There have also been disturbing changes in the sexual relationships of children and young adults. UNICEF reported last year that more children in the UK have had sexual intercourse by the age of 15 than in any other country. UK Government figures show that the UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Western Europe, while the sexual health of young adults in the UK has deteriorated over the last two years. In the US, the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. Meanwhile, by way of further evidence that the commoditisation of sexual relationships is affecting teenagers and young people, media reports say that the number of teenage girls having breast implants have more than doubled in the past year in both Britain and the US.

Sex is a powerful motivator in human behaviour and society and when it comes to analysing trends we must understand it as a significant driver of change. But as a rule sexual relationships are something we prefer not to think about in this context. If we are to seek a rounded view of the behaviour of consumers, we need to consider the increasingly apparent commoditisation of sexual relationships, which is starting to raise moral issues for brands, and for products and services, as well as for society.

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