Toward a Theory of Sexuality and Consumption: Consumer Lovemaps

Stephen J. Gould, Rutgers University
[ to cite ]:
Stephen J. Gould (1991) ,"Toward a Theory of Sexuality and Consumption: Consumer Lovemaps", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, eds. Rebecca H. Holman and Michael R. Solomon, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 381-383.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 18, 1991      Pages 381-383


Stephen J. Gould, Rutgers University

I always find that wearing Robert Lee Morris jewelry causes men to gather around me as if I'm emitting a powerful aphrodisiac. I like this. (Robert Lee Morris Jewelry and Accessories undated, p. 13)

He was our group's guide on a trip to Israel and we immediately hated each other (I was the Snob, he the Corporate Clone)...After a few days, though, we began to soften enough so that when he invited me to his room for a nightcap, I went...I was wearing a bodysuit with snaps up the back, and he very gently unfastened them, one by one. We made love twice - not the typical fumbling kind of way and were so much in sync in terms of speed, pressure, and our needs. Before I went back to my room the next morning, he carefully fastened all the snaps back up again. (New Woman 1990, p. 76).

Golden Lotus took his silken gown. Something dropped out of the sleeve and fell tinkling to the ground. She picked it up and weighed it in her hand. It was like a little ball, but very heavy. . he looked at it for a long time, but could not imagine what it was for. "What is it?" she said. "And why does it seem so heavy?" "Don't you know?" he said, laughing. "They call it the Bell of Fecundity...A good one is worth four or five measures of silver." "Where is it to be put?" the woman asked. "First put it inside you, and then get on with what has to be done. The results are quite indescribable." (Chin Ping Mein in Douglas and Slinger 1989, p. 365)


As the above quotes indicate there is a broad spectrum of omnipresent sexuality present in everyday life which is directly involved with consumption, much as two bodies become entwined in the sex act. Although we as consumer researchers recognize this pervasive influence, we nonetheless appear to have gone to great pains to ignore it as a research topic, except perhaps in the advertising context, and to act as if consumer behavior were devoid of sexuality - sometimes I think life as phenomenologically felt experience has been just as ignored, as well, though it's certainly more fashionable to bemoan such conditions these days. Both this session and this paper are designed to fertilize our barren and dry our research womb with the seminal fluid of the vital essence of living, libidinous consumer behavior.


We may view the sexuality-consumption connection in terms of various levels of phenomenological manifestation: (1) the sex act itself and consumption objects involved (e.g. sexual toys) as well as the exchange terms between sexual partners (e.g. prostitution; forming a relationship with a sexual partner), (2) the consumption surrounding the act both directly (e.g. the acquisition and use of boudoir accompaniments) and indirectly (e.g. the ritualistic use of consumption objects to attract sexual partners), and (3) investments of sexual libido in symbolic reenactments or simulacra of the sex act (e.g. dancing suggestively).

How should we view such seemingly disparate phenomena as well as the vast individual differences that manifest in sexual behavior? The perspective I wish to offer here is informed by the field of sex research, one which has been overlooked by consumer research, in spite of our seeming obsession with sex. This field offers rich potential for consumer researchers which I want to call attention to. Here in particular, I want to suggest that there exist what we can call consumer lovemaps. This concept represents an adaptation of Money's (1984) lovemap theory. He defines a lovemap as (p. 165) as that which "carries the program of a person's erotic fantasies and their corresponding practices." Based on the lovemap concept, Money has developed a typology of paraphilias (perversions) each with their own lovemap (e.g. autonepiophilia - diaperism; hyphephilia - lover of fabrics). Each also follows certain strategies of sexual response - the two examples of autonepiophilia and hyphephilia, for instance, represent a fetishistic sexual strategy. In this context, we may define a consumer lovemap as including those aspects of the more general lovemap which involve consumption, i.e. the purchase and use of products in the process of attracting a mate, engaging in sexual activity, and developing and maintaining sexual-love relationships.

In sex research, there is nothing like a case to illustrate a point. The case I will quote in part here from Stekel (1952, p. 21) illustrates not only how a consumer lovemap works (as well as a fetishistic lovemap strategy) but also gives us an idea how sexuality and consumption are related. In the following passage, Stekel recounts the case of a rose fetishist:

He never had intercourse with women and even declared that he was a misogynist. One evening he saw a woman who was wearing a beautiful rose upon her breast and promptly fell in love - with the woman but primarily with the rose. Secretly he soon engaged himself to this woman. but his desire was solely directed to her roses. He never rested until the roses she wore became his property. He would then take them home, smell them over and over again and thereby sense the deepest raptures. He finally collected quite a museum of roses with a deal of industry.

This man never married the woman but instead broke off the engagement. His passion was for roses to which he had transferred the psychic investment of his libido energy. However, while such paraphilias might be of interest in their own right to consumer researchers as representing distorted lovemaps which involve various forms of consumption, the paraphilia and lovemap concepts might also be considered for what they say about consumption in the 'normal range' of sexual behavior. Here in using the term normal or 'normophilia', we follow Money who views paraphiliacs as generally using unusual or unacceptable stimuli to reach orgasm, i.e. the normal sex act is not as arousing to them. Nonetheless even those for whom the 'usual sex act' is arousing and exciting may still exhibit all sorts of peculiarities and specific tastes related to partners, objects and settings as sexual stimuli, as well as to interactions between these stimuli. In considering these stimuli, based on the work of Money and many others in the sex research field (e.g. Singer 1985; Singer and Toates 1987), sexual behavior may be viewed as being appetitive and involving acquired (conditioned) motivation as developed in various socialization theories although also possessing drive-like, unconditioned qualities. It especially differs across cultures and some individuals have reported that their whole experience of sexuality changes when they try the sexual practices of another culture (Gould 1990).

Consumer lovemaps represent this patterning of acquired tastes and incorporate a broad range of ordinary to extraordinary consumption behaviors. Thus we can all describe to some degree what composes our lovemap if asked, although we might not know why. Some of us may know that we particularly like to 'prime' our sexual behavior by wearing certain clothes, watching certain videos, eating certain foods, engaging in certain cleansing and grooming rituals etc. Sex therapy often goes back to the source of these tastes in one's lovemaps and finds particular experiences in which the investment of one's libido gets focused on particular objects and rituals (cf. Money 1984).


The consumer lovemap approach might help us to sort out various questions of interest to consumer researchers. For example, we might begin to develop a framework for answering the most famous question of all, "How much of consumption is sexual?" Lovemap theory, along with other approaches, suggests several things that might be useful in this regard (cf. Money 1984):

(1) There are vast individual differences in lovemaps so that what has sexual feeling and/or connotation for one individual will not for another.

(2) While lovemaps are largely psychogenic in nature, individual differences in libido may also play a role in their determination.

(3) There are also likely to be gender, age and other socio-demographic differences in lovemaps.

(4) Specific life experiences, especially early developmental ones, serve as the root of various lifelong lovemap patternings.

(5) Some consumption experiences may be seen to be more tied directly to actual sexual experience while others may not. This may account for our ambivalence toward and difficulty with the study of sexuality in consumer research, since it may not be the consumption experience per se that makes it sexual or not sexual in feeling and association, but rather a phenomenological question of experience which may not be easy to trace. Thus, for example, one individual may have at some point had an acutely arousing experience while eating an ice cream cone and associate that with sexuality at some level of consciousness, while another person may have had no such experience.

(6) The relationship of sexual behavior and consumption may be mapped. Moreover, with regard to this mapping, we need not rely solely on relatively abstract psychotherapy, however useful and suggestive for some research in this area it might be - instead we can also explore and identify specific networks of behavior (conscious and unconscious) and see how they are encoded in various schema and scripts. In fact, I would argue that using a lovemap approach provides a natural bridge between so-called positivistic and post-positivistic researchers as both phenomenological-ethnographic and cognitive social-psychological methodologies should prove useful in describing consumer lovemaps and also in forming and testing predictive hypotheses about them. Through the application of the lovemap construct, we should begin to understand in more specific terms how libido comes to be cathected into consumption objects.

It is hoped that this brief paper will inspire researchers to look more closely at what may be the most important and certainly one of the least understood consumer behavior phenomena, i.e. sexually-related consumption. In this domain as well in others we have tended to undervalue things of the direct senses and to overvalue abstractions and constructs of the mind which are distal from felt experience (cf. Berman 1989). Yet if we want to go to the roots of consumer behavior and investigate the deeper linkages and networks of experiential phenomena at more fundamental levels of being, it is imperative that we have a sexual revolution of our own.

Thus, if we envision what consumer research might look like one hundred years from now, given that such a revolution has taken place, we almost certainly will see that many articles have been published on sexuality and consumption and that various aspects of their relationship will have been inscribed into our basic consumer research 'text' and discourse. Perhaps the idea of the consumer lovemap will be the guiding construct along with other ideas concerning libido and its psychic investment in objects. Moreover, we can almost certainly expect that sexuality, itself, as an object and aspect of consumption will have evolved so that the art and science of sexual stimulation and satisfaction will have moved into new spheres. It is likely, for instance, that new aphrodisiacal drugs; psychophysiological stimulating devices; consciousness altering mind-body psychotechnologies (cf. Roberts 1989), psychological interventions, and related sexual techniques and practices; and environments and objects surrounding and/or used in lovemaking will make the sex act even more an object of consumption than it already is, especially in our perception of it as involving or even itself being an act of consumption. Thus for us as consumer researchers it is most important that we discover and study male and female sexual consumers, i.e. consumer eroticus and consumer erotica, respectively.


Berman, Morris (1989), Coming to Our Senses, New York: Simon and Schuster.

Douglas, Nik and Penny Slinger (1989), Sexual Secrets: The Alchemy of Ecstasy, Rochester, VT: Destiny Books.

Gould, Stephen J. (1990), "The Import of Asian Sexual Psychotechnologies into the United States: The 'New Woman' and the 'New Man' Go Tantric'," Journal of Popular Culture (in press).

Money, John (1984), "Paraphilias: Phenomenology and Classification," American Journal of Psychotherapy, 38 (April), 164-179.

New Woman (1990), "Sexually Speaking," 20 (May), 76.

Robert Lee Morris Jewelry and Accessories (undated catalog).

Roberts, Thomas R. (1989), "Multistate Education: Metacognitive Implications for the Mind-body Technologies," Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 21 (1), 83-102. 323+

Singer, Barry (1985), "A Comparison of Evolutionary and Environmental Theories of Erotic Response Part I: Structural Features," The Journal of Sex Research, 21 (August), 229-257.

Singer, Barry and Frederick M. Toates (1987), "Sexual Motivation," The Journal of Sex Research, 23 (November), 481-501.

Stekel, Wilhelm (1952), Sexual Aberrations: The Phenomena of Fetishism in Relation to Sex, New York: Liveright.