The Wiki Man

S&M&B&Q: Why aren’t there sex-and-shopping novels for men?

Like sexual behaviour, shopping behaviour is unbelievably strange

8 November 2014

9:00 AM

8 November 2014

9:00 AM

I never got beyond page 20 in Fifty Shades of Grey. No one got shot in the first chapter, and there were more than four characters, so I rapidly found the plot confusing. In any case, I am averse to physical pain in any form (if I were to engage in BDSM activities, my secret codeword would be ‘ouch’) so it wasn’t really my thing. But the book does leave us with one literary Everest still to be conquered: if someone can write a pornographic novel for women, is there a similar fortune to be made writing a sex-and-shopping book for men?

So that’s my plan for retirement. To write a novel for blokes where graphic scenes of deviant sexual activity are interspersed with practical, time-saving trips to Argos and B&Q. The handy thing about this is that, rather than having to construct painstaking descriptions of square-jawed characters negotiating to buy large diamonds in the cobbled streets of Antwerp, you can simply cut and paste most of it:

After he woke up, he showered and went online to reserve a Stanley FatMax FME811K Angle Grinder. £49.95. A powerful and durable angle grinder that is perfect for cutting paving slabs or other jobs requiring rapid stock removal, the Stanley FatMax Angle Grinder sports a rubber cable to prevent snapping in cold conditions and is built to an industrial standard for increased strength and durability. 850w. Disk size 115mm (disk not supplied).


Like sexual behaviour, shopping behaviour is unbelievably strange. It runs the gamut from the perfunctory to the highly theatrical. And while retailers now have a huge amount of data about who buys what, they have little clue about the underlying motivations behind it. Even economists have nothing to say about the origins of human preference. (Economics simply assumes people know perfectly what they want, and then takes it as a given that their expenditure must somehow optimally satisfy those desires.)

The only people to have asked deeper questions are evolutionary psychologists (chiefly Geoffrey Miller, Gad Saad and Robert H. Frank), who all suggest that certain patterns of consumption don’t work to our advantage. Rivalrous expenditure can degenerate into a zero-sum game: an unwinnable arms race for positional status. Expensive weddings would be a good example: can anyone honestly say they have noticed any positive correlation between how much a wedding costs and how enjoyable it is to attend? I might also suggest that the $1.7 trillion (yes, trillion) spent annually on fashion and beauty products seems a tad excessive. Frankly, if the women’s movement wants to do something really useful, women could all agree to dress down for a few years (in burkas, perhaps) and we could use the money to pay off the debt and end world hunger.

Understanding these psychological forces is important. As Tesco found, you can pursue what seems like a sensible approach for decades only to find your customers have changed. Or, if you are Amazon, you need to know how large your business could be ten years hence. Today, if you exclude things that are difficult to send by post, like petrol, plants, timber and DIY supplies, Amazon has a little over 1.1 per cent of US retail sales (yes, it seemed surprisingly small to me, too). That might mean it is perfectly possible for Amazon to become ten or even 20 times larger than it is now. Or it could be that Amazon will never be more than twice the size it is now — because, deep down in our monkey brains, we don’t really go to the shops simply to buy things we need. As I mentioned earlier, nobody has yet written a successful novel about sex and online shopping.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK.

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Show comments
  • Sean Grainger

    I know this is a cheap shot Mr S but aren’t all dating — or indeed dogging — websites essentially shopping and directly related to sex and hence the novel is there to written if one can be arsed to underestimate public taste for a couple of months?

  • E Hart

    Good piece. Amazon, Alibaba etc. are a pared down versions of Sears & Roebuck. Imagine placing your order by mail and then receiving a telegram from Western Union to confirm that an entire life-sized farm complete with house, Dutch barn, a tractor, a combine harvester, livestock etc. was ready for collection at the local railway siding. That’s what I call shopping. There is very little new under the sun. As for the mix of sex and DIY, you’d have found that in Rome, Greece, Carthage, Rio, Cartagena de las Indias or Natchez. Ballard’s descriptions of the White Russian tarts plying their trade in the febrile mercantile atmosphere of pre-war Shanghai goes some way there but thankfully it falls short of the technical specifications for angle grinders.

    I would suggest that the juxtaposition of Tesco’s profits with the tagline “Every little helps” might have stuck in the craw just once too often, especially when it coincided with disposable income taking a hit.

  • Gwangi

    Because men have brains.
    Next question…

    • StupidWhiningMen

      So it must feel like a bitter blow to be so stupid.

      • Jairzinho

        Are you hearing the ‘voices’ again?

        • StupidWhiningMen

          No I’m reading the dribblings.

          • Jairzinho

            Well stop. It seems to be infectious.

  • Blindsideflanker

    Because for men shopping in nothing short of a torture and impossible to associate with sex. If there is something required it is as a result of need, and done on a hit and run manoeuvre, to plan the exercise, execute it, and get out of there fast.

    • StupidWhiningMen

      Ah yes, car showrooms must just be there to make roundabouts look ugly.

  • StupidWhiningMen

    On average women spend £54.20 on themselves each month, men spend £72.20.

    • Jairzinho

      However, she’s getting her L’Oreal “Because I’m worth it” fix and he’s at Sainsburys sorting out some chocs for her!!!

      • StupidWhiningMen

        More like playing the 16th hour of grand theft auto on one of their numerous games platforms.

        • Jairzinho

          What’s wrong with that “Because I’m Worth It”?

    • brillopad1

      ‘On average women spend £54.20 on themselves each month’.

      And yet you still look like the back of a bus.
      Life’s a bitch eh?

      • StupidWhiningMen

        It must sting knowing you have to pay for it.

        But to lack the courage.

        • Jairzinho

          Entitlement alert!!!

    • Jairzinho

      They use more resources, they live longer….they cost more! Sort that out and I could have a huge tax saving…….to spend on our girls.

  • StupidWhiningMen

    Women will stop spending their money on trying to look nice for men when men stop expecting them to. When they stop calling women disgusting for having hair on their legs or under their arms, for calling them unfeminine for not having long hair that requires constant expensive maintenance, when they don’t run an international sex trade, when they don’t buy lads mags, competitions for the most beautiful, the best ar*e, run a fashion and beauty and plastic surgery industry, when they stop daring each other to chat up “5 pinters” who don’t maintain biologically impossible stomachs, when they stop expecting them to mutilate themselves to maintain biologically impossible waist to chest ratios, when their biggest fear on a blind date is not as it is for women that their date will attack them, but that she will be fat, when 82% of the over 55s in front of the screen aren’t male, and when they stop telling the ridiculous lie that they like natural women.

    • Jairzinho

      Do you live in north east Glasgow by any chance?

    • Gwangi

      Actually, it is women who are BY FAR the most snide and b-tchy critics of the way women look. I never criticise the way women look. Blame WOMEN for that, and their obsession with appearance (which symbolises fertility and attractiveness and always will, just like men get constant pressure re status and jobs), not men. This is not caused by lads mags, love, but by innate female nature hardwired into your brains. It’s not men’s fault you are ugly and fat – so stop pointing the finger eh?
      I expect to see lots of waddling adipose face-ache women where I live, so every time I go out, I am unsurprised. I ‘call’ women nothing at all – and try not to look at the acres of bare blubbery flab women expose to an innocent world (and why oh why do 20 stone orca women wear leggings? Really gross…)

      • rorysutherland

        I agree here. Most female fashion is designed to intimidate or impress other women. Do men really know enough about bags to care that you spent £800 rather than £80? Besides, it is very easy and inexpensive for women to dress in a way which appeals to men: I don’t know myself, but I suspect very few of the girls at Spearmint Rhino walk onstage in Diane von Furstenberg frocks.

  • evad666

    “Dahling isn’t this the fwd fire control tower you were looking for?” her hand brushed the back of his as he dry assembled the two halves of the funnel.
    Her scent was overpowering as her hair brushed his cheek.
    “@od the kit”, he said lifting his eye glass and dragging her towards him….

  • StupidWhiningMen

    It’s hilarious how men think they aren’t materialistic when they queue all week to be the first to bristle with dumb gadgets to keep in their man bags, and load with apps, to help them negotiate their journeys to man-events in their showoffy cars with special trims, obscenely expensive bikes and accessories, competitively purchased sporting, TV, music and computing equipment available in a dizzying array of barely differentiated technical specifications. But that’s good, sensible materialism, not like the silly, trivial womanly kind of things to fill up the lonely hours while they’re out playing golf with one of their 15 clubs and banging one of the better dressed interns.

    • Jairzinho

      Now, let me see….was that Wednesday or Thursday…..?

    • brillopad1

      ‘One of their 15 clubs’.

      Oh dear, loss of hole or 2 stroke penalty.
      And you want membership of Muirfield?

      • StupidWhiningMen

        The boys prefer to be alone driving their wooden shafts.

        • Jairzinho

          Your man obviously would if you’ve managed to secure a bill payer for yourself!

    • Jairzinho

      Take women’s costs out of the NHS and hey presto…80% savings.

      The sistas do OK sweetheart!

  • Uh, there IS porn for men. It’s called the internet.

  • Laguna Beach Fogey

    Shopping is inherently dull, which is why men don’t write about it. But sex and the enjoyment of material things–clothing, motor cars, watches, pussy, shoes, etc.–are very much topics in lad lit.

  • StupidWhiningMen

    Why aren’t there any car chases and explosions films for women?

    • Jairzinho

      They don’t like it on the whole. They like Corrie and Emmerdale! See it’s all very simple and obvious!

    • Dannyinsc

      Thelma and Louise slipped your mind?

  • StupidWhiningMen

    “Frankly, if the women’s movement wants to do something really useful, women could all agree to dress down for a few years (in burkas, perhaps) and we could use the money to pay off the debt and end world hunger.”

    Or.

    Men could stop spending trillions on increasingly complicated ways to beat their gorilla chests at one another and then using them on women and kids and then expecting us all to remember them every year in a big show offs parade where they pretend they’re the main victims.

    Or not create an international economic crisis because they’re all shoving cocaine up their non-materialistic noses.

    Just two ideas. I have more.

    • Jairzinho

      Try option 1 first. I think the drop in attention from men would suit you, in particular, very well!

      Another option would be to say “thanks fellas; you have invented the very things that have liberated us have defended us and supported us and our children….just everything”

  • Greyfox

    The real reason is that while female sexuality is liberating and desirable, male sexuality is filthy and disgusting and men should be ashamed of it. At least so a feminist friend tells me.

  • rtj1211

    Looking forward to you asking Hadley Freeman to review your first novel. Should be hilarious!!

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