As society becomes more open-minded towards sex and sexuality, the global sexual wellness market is forecasted to reach $58 billion by 2020. But an honest, wellness-forward approach to sexuality has yet to catch on in some sectors of culture—including media.
In August, former Wall Streeet Journal journalist Loretta Chao launched The Sex Reporter to offer a new, objective approach to sex journalism as an antidote to the current media coverage. Below, Chao discusses sex-negative culture and the future of sex coverage.
To see how brands are reimagining sex retail, read our article Rebranding Sexual Health.
What did you aim to accomplish in launching The Sex Reporter?
Looking at all the issues we (the media) were working tirelessly to shine a light on every day, it was glaringly apparent we left one out: sex. Sex is a topic that touches nearly everyone’s life, including those who don’t have much of it. It drives business, policy, religion, culture—pretty much every aspect of society we can think of.
At the same time, it’s often ignored or sidelined in the mass media because it’s considered either too frivolous or too unseemly. The result is coverage that only touches on sex when it’s scandalous or dirty, which perpetuates biases against discussion. That bias has many damaging effects, including sexual repression, anxiety, miseducation, inequality, and a stifling of sex-related innovation.
I created The Sex Reporter as a platform to both showcase objective coverage of sex, and to serve as an educational site with resources on media literacy when it comes to sex, scientific and economic data related to human sexuality, and a list of reputable sex educators, researchers and other journalists. I wanted to show that objective, informed sexual content has value to readers, and can be about more than scandal, porn and cute euphemisms.
Why didn’t a site like this exist before?
There are people including journalists, educators and researchers who publish content about sex—just not enough. And it can be a struggle to find outlets that will treat their contributions as seriously as any other topic.
We live in what many call a “sex negative” culture, which is apparent in reactions to discussions of sex. It can often be more appropriate to talk about politics or religion than it is to talk openly about human sexuality. Even social media sites more strictly censor sexual content than violent content—sex tech entrepreneurs have a hard time buying advertisements, for example. Some of them have fundamental infrastructure issues, and have been cut off from financial or hosting services, because of sexual stigma.
Meanwhile, in the media, sex is traditionally only covered if something criminal happens, or if something seen as salacious or dirty makes a good, gossipy headline. A platform was needed with the expressed purpose of taking an objective stance to sex, which values diversity in conversations about it, and with the understanding of its profound impact on all our lives.
What’s changing in cultural conversations about sex that might make consumers more responsive to this type of site?
Despite living in a sex-negative culture, there are segments of the population that are changing their views. Younger generations are increasingly proponents of same-sex marriage and gay and transgender rights; people are challenging traditional views of women’s sexuality and desire; and there are a growing number of entrepreneurs who are looking to both capitalize on this shift toward openness, and to speed it up. We aren’t quite there yet, but my hope is that soon we’ll have a perfect storm of demographic change, Internet-enabled education and market forces that will open consumers up.
Your articles center around business, technology and sex research. What stories have been the most popular?
Some of the more popular stories so far have been about the challenges of making virtual reality porn for women, the culture of revenge porn and one on the history of herpes stigma and the harm it does to people to this day. I do a video series, Sex in the News, where I review sex-related news stories to share good stories as well as my process for identifying those that fall short. The series is part of my push for media literacy, to promote more skepticism among content consumers, a crucial part to making sex reporting more objective.
People also enjoy and ask for personal essays, which I publish to show the diversity of sexual perspectives and experiences that exist. The first one, written by a professional athlete about his struggle with monogamy, got a great response.
How do you think that sex coverage will change in the future?
With any luck, we’ll see a normalizing of more objective ways to discuss sex. I hope to see more of a balance in terms of coverage of sex beyond trafficking and pedophilia, or celebrity gossip and fear-mongering. I would hope to see media outlets resist the temptation to fuel stigma when covering sexually-transmitted infections, or sexual behaviors that lie outside of what is traditionally accepted to be “normal.”
In entertainment media, I see a growing number of people standing up to public shaming, whether because of so-called “sluttiness” or for self-identified straight men enjoying anal play. I hope that, as those criticisms gain traction, coverage of those topics will become more objective.
What can other media outlets or brands take away from this?
I want editors and reporters to rethink sexuality. It’s not a subject for clickbait or an occasional laugh; it’s an important area of coverage that deserves as much coverage as any multi-billion dollar industry, or public health, or government.
Speaking of government, sex is at the center of some of the biggest regulatory battles taking place today in terms of women’s rights, healthcare and sex education. There are interest groups that invest hundreds of millions of dollars in politicizing sex, waging war on anything that challenges a certain view on sex, gender and family structures, and we (the media) should be well-educated on those subjects, to avoid being manipulated and spreading misinformation.