Sex-obsessed Super Bowl

Super Bowl XLV is going down this Sunday, the sporting event of the year in which the majority of the nation comes together to overindulge in fried foods, and other artery-clogging snacks and dips, and drink beer while watching the best in the NFL battle it out for football supremacy (at least until September when the new season starts). I’m not mad at this at all; I enjoy good ol’ fashioned sports rivalry and copious amounts of onion dip.

However, the Super Bowl is as synonymous with overindulgence of food as it is with the overindulgence of sex. There’s the annual Lingerie Bowl, the salacious sexist GoDaddy ads, repeated uproar over sex-trafficking for players and tourists, and even now there is the “Porn Sunday” movement to help men cure their sex addiction on Super Bowl Sunday. All of these outputs stem from the same idea that men are sex-crazed beasts that only respond to sexual stimuli. Since the Super Bowl and football are assumed to be mainly of interest to men, it’s not a surprise that advertisers who spend millions of dollars for 30 seconds of precious Super Bowl ad time are appealing to the lowest common denominator through sexual imagery. Ain’t nothing new. But let’s focus on the activity and coverage leading up to the event.

In the last two weeks there have been numerous articles about “stripper shortages” in Dallas and in contrast there’s been huge concerns about trafficking of sex workers (particularly young girls) to meet the influx of players, coaches and tourists coming to Dallas. I was concerned too until Audacia Ray, a fierce sex workers’ rights advocate, posted this article poking holes in the assertion that sex workers will flood these cities and make them hotbeds for trafficking. Studies repeatedly have shown that cities hosting the Super Bowl, and other major sporting events such as the World Cup, have not seen a sharp increase in sex workers. There is no evidence supporting this at all, either scientifically or anecdotally, as clearly pointed out in the article. Audacia pointed me to one study which speaks to the bigger issues of a) the growing trend of linking trafficking to sporting events and b) assuming that sex workers are trafficked underage girls.

This study from the African Centre for Migration and Society regarding the recent World Cup in South Africa lays it out:

Yet, a much marginalised population has once again been overlooked despite civil society attempts to bring it into mainstream concern. Sex workers have borne the brunt of city “clean-up” drives, increased violence and insensitive public health campaigns, while falling victim to government-created “Vice Squads”. The World Cup has left many sex workers in a weaker position than before and resulted in a public misconception that sex work and trafficking are intertwined.

This is not to say trafficking of girls is not a serious and legitimate problem but we have to keep things in proper context. The problem here is that all this focus on a purported sex worker influx based on the assumption that these women were trafficked takes attention and resources away from girls who really are in danger.

On the other side of the spectrum, we have “Porn Sunday,” part of, a Christian evangelical movement to help cure men of sex addiction. It’s a non-profit run by Fireproof Ministries and they claim their mission is to “make you think, react, and to decide where you stand on the issues of porn.” They’re “not here to sling mud, but to shove the envelope and try and do some good.But it’s clear they believe porn is sinful and the devil’s work. They have even enlisted some pro-football players including Matt Hasselbeck to speak about this issue via their online campaign.

While I support more mainstream attention to sex workers’ rights and child trafficking, it’s important that amidst the uproar there is fact-based discussion and analysis. However that seems to be lacking unless you’re pro-actively doing research. At the same time, I can appreciate discussion of sexual addiction and pornography’s role in it, yet shaming people for masturbating doesn’t seem like a productive way to shape dialogue. At the baseline, these two examples highlight Americans’ discomfort and simultaneous obsession with the realities of sex and sexuality.

Join the Conversation

  • nazza

    This is our Puritanical heritage again.

    Once again, as I have said quite often, we are judgmental voyeurs praying the camera never turns on us.

  • J.Victoria

    Thanks for writing this. I’ve been intrigued by the dialogue around sex, sex trafficking and strippers (and porn) leading up to the Super Bowl. I haven’t been able to put my finger on what bothers me about the coverage but I think you got it right – I wish more of it was fact-based. A lot of what I’ve seen seems value-based.

  • Nicole

    This is a perfect example of the overlap and reinforcement to rape culture that sports culture is so often all about. By turning women into objects, sexual objects, they are reinforcing the attitude that women are there to serve men and that what they have to say matters little. Society’s general defense reaction when it comes to negative discussion of athletes, sexism and rape culture is a clear example of society’s desire to defend what they “know” and fear or reject what makes them think unhappy thoughts.

  • Marie

    I have some cousins who are fundamentalist Christians, and when I brought some of my feminist friends to a family reunion, the only thing that they could agree on is how much they hated the Super Bowl.

  • Amarinthia Torres

    There are so many problems with this blog post and article that, frankly, I am at a loss for why it’s posted on Feministing to begin with. I don’t think the author does a good job of backing up her claims with any real evidence, sources, or even explanations. And then, when she does reference an article as “proof” (the article linked to from Audacia Ray) it just gets significantly worse.

    The article’s tone is entirely dismissive of the fact that underage prostitution and yes, sometimes trafficking does in fact exist and is actually quite common. The author makes jokes and illogical assertions all throughout the article. The sources that the author uses for evidence that underage prostitution does not increase during the super bowl is not research-based or scientific at all…he talks to a woman who used to be a pimp for an upscale escort service and a NFL spokesperson. It’s like we’re just supposed to take his word for it. There is also no analysis of class or race on an issue that has everything to do with race and class. Just a few of my favorite unfounded claims in the article: “Pimps do exist,” McNeill says, “but they’re a relatively rare phenomenon,” said by the female pimp he interviewed. “Underage hookers are also “extremely rare,” McNeill says.” This shoddy written article undermines the entire blog post in my opinion. And how bout using some actual stats on underage commercial sexual exploitation. See below. And for anyone who wants to get a glimpse into the real lives of girls who are underage and exploited, watch a great documentary called “Very Young Girls.”

    The Department of Justice estimates the most frequent age of entry into the commercial sex industry in the United States is 12-14 years old (

    An estimated 1.6 million children run away from home each year in the US. The average time it takes before a runaway is approached by a trafficker or solicitor is 48 hours (National Runaway Switchboard).

    • Matthew T. Jameson

      Is there evidence that you are aware of that underage prostitution or sex trafficking increase during the Super Bowl or other major sporting events? I agree that simply dismissing this notion is problematic, but it also behooves us to determine if, in fact, there is any relationship between these three variables (sporting events, underage prostitution and sex trafficking).

  • zill222

    This TIMES article from 2 days ago references police estimates in increase in prostitution and reports of child prostitution and trafficking for last years super bowl. 10,000 more prostitutes because of the Super bowl and there were reports of (how many were not reported) of 24 child prostitutes. That doesn’t even mention the women (not children) that were trafficked.

    I can support a women’s right to take money for consensual sex without kicking trafficked women and children in the face. We can acknowledge that the sex for money industry contains both.