Web Design

Psychology Hacks in Web Design: Sex Sells

You don’t have to be an unredeemable pervert to realize that a certain amount of sex appeal can help quickly gain an audience, be it male or female. One really lovely part…

Estimated Read Time:  6 minutes


Psychology Hacks in Web Design - Sex Sells - Sex appeal in marketing, advertising online

You don’t have to be an unredeemable pervert to realize that a certain amount of sex appeal can help quickly gain an audience, be it male or female. One really lovely part about humans is that in general, we can’t help but glance at an advertisement that shows a little skin. Be that washboard abs, or cleavage, it’s important now-a-days that it not be so in your face as to make it distasteful if your brand’s reputation is important to you.

Psychology Hacks in Web Design - Sex Sells - Sex appeal in marketing, advertising online

Ads that have gratuitous sexual imagery are better when they are done in a self aware and humorous way.

The self-awareness is important, because if it’s not done in a respectful way to the models etc., it can look like someone is being taken advantage of or simply used as prop – it works way better when it’s a joke that the people involved are in on and cool with. Old spice is a prime example of how to create video advertisements that showcase sexuality – male sexuality taken to funny, fairly ridiculous extremes with tongue placed firmly in cheek.


YouTube video

Be an equal-opportunity ‘sex sells’ marketer

And this print advertisement below for Lumberjack Leather Co., by The Anti-Agency, takes both the male and female form as objects of lust. This is done a such a over-the-top way as to be clearly aware of it’s own craziness, and thus I believe succeeds in creating a light-hearted vibe – check out the leather bag off to the side.


Sex appeal in web design - sex sells

sexy web design examples

Be aware of the sexual cues, particularly if the product or service promise, is supposed to implicitly increase the customers draw

“Physical survival, food, and sex are really what the old brain focuses on. It is therefore very skilled at noticing what has changed” in its environment relating to these three cues. So the key is to play to the instincts that most complement the product or service the website you are creating is for. Yes, at the next level up it seems there is an instinctual draw for meaning and human connection and this is why human faces of either gender but particularly of women do very well as far as keeping attention – for both male and female audiences. Here are some different styles of leveraging sexiness with photography in web design, with the implied message.

Lifestyle freedom – “Our products will help you feel more free, uninhibited and sexy”


Blatant, Hey our products will give you freedom


The innuendo – “Who knows? With our products, you could be feeling this good.”

Subtle sexual cues in web design, innuendo

I personally think the innuendo is the most powerful of all persuasion techniques regarding sexuality, because as you can see nothing is explicit about the sexuality that may or may not be hinted at in the photography here. But it does catch your eye – this is my favorite type because I think the brain doesn’t have enough evidence to feel threatened by the use of sexuality / persuasion here. It’s only enough to be playful and to hint at the kiss, the philandary.

I think the more subtly one is with this type of imagery, the more it will appeal to a broader range of people as well. A straight woman’s instinctive reaction here would possibly still be “I want to be cute and skinny like this model as well.” Perhaps drinking this shake will help, and isn’t turned off by the possible sexual cue that a man might instinctively recognize.

The tension – “With our product or service, you’ll be irresistable.”


Sex Sells in Web Design - Create attraction, show sexual attraction

To wrap up this section, I’ll summarize with the suggestion that simply allowing a bit of sensuality more that anything permeate your website when appropriate, subtle but significant, can add another way to connect with the other humans viewing the site at a basic gut-level. If you create handmade products, showing the products being sewn or formed together with the hands running over the outside of the product helps the website visitor imagine touching the product as well. It’s all about igniting a visceral, or almost undeniable want.

Persuasion is beautiful. Sex is beautiful. Everyone uses powers of persuasion and it’s neither bad nor good – we make it that way with how we use them, and what we use them for. I also believe a code of ethics, affect people deeply and help us connect with our audience, and so we shouldn’t ever neglect the context of this type of imagery.

In a broader sense, allow sexuality to inform your understanding of human psychology in web design

Allowing the emotion of sex, the understanding of how humans want to connect in a physical way, feel completion, be treated as a human can help you think about the way interactions “feel” and help you have more empathy for the way they interact with your website.

Ways that web design can relate to sex in a broader way:


Sex in web design

  • In a series of steps, allow the final step to be a climactic conclusion. (Steps 1, 2, 3 – Completed with a big checkmark!)
  • Allow a visual change on hover, and a visual change during a button press to allow the visitor action-satisfaction.

[codepen_embed height=”368″ theme_id=”0″ slug_hash=”gbQOaV” default_tab=”result” user=”kyleledbetter”]See the Pen Angular Material Design Starter App by Kyle Ledbetter (@kyleledbetter) on CodePen.[/codepen_embed]

In this instance of Material Design, try pressing the button in the corner. The movement/animation from the button in the bottom right corner allows the visitor to in a sense “feel” the hover and the result of their click and see it with the resulting animation. You can check out more Material Design resources here.

  • Consider dropping the overly formal language and talking in a casual way with visitors. Imagine they are right next to you – allow yourself to imagine being attracted to them – be charming and relatable.
  • Allow this familiarity and relatability to permeate to nudges, allowing next steps to be obvious, hand-hold the visitor and be aware intimately with what they care about if possible (hint, hint, perhaps with some User Testing,) and allow that intimacy to help you have more empathy for what they care about.

If you’ve appreciated this post you might also like my post “5 Ways to Delight Your Website Visitors with User Experience,” and “Psychology Hacks in Web Design: Mirroring.” Have any thoughts? Post them below!

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