Her mouth says no, but her lip gloss says yes

Who needs enthusiastic consent when cosmetics can tell you if she's in the mood?

Published March 18, 2010 4:19PM (EDT)

Female lips. A photo close up (Sergey Galushko)
Female lips. A photo close up (Sergey Galushko)

So, here's the worst idea I've heard all week: Lip gloss that lets everyone around you know you're horny. "The saucy slap changes from clear to deep crimson as the wearer feels frisky," reports The Sun. "It works by reacting with a girl's body chemistry. And each £12 tube comes with a colour chart so men can work out how randy their partner is feeling." Well, that all sounds reassuringly scientific.

Mood lipstick, like its notoriously inaccurate cousin the mood ring, is hardly new; I recall it being all the rage when I was still in elementary school, and I doubt that was the first time. But as far as I know, this is the first iteration that's been marketed as a translator of female desire for befuddled men who would otherwise have no idea if they stood to get lucky. Which is just a terrific idea, except for a few things. 1) If "reacting with a girl's body chemistry" means the changes are heat-activated, as they are with mood rings and similar products, a "frisky" reading could mean a whole lot of other things. There's still a shocking number of grown men out there who haven't fully grasped that erect nipples aren't always the result of being turned on -- do we really want to give them one more thing to misinterpret? 2) Even if one's lipgloss accurately reflects arousal, feeling aroused does not necessarily mean one wants to have sex right this minute. 3) Even if one wants to have sex right this minute, one doesn't necessarily want to have it with whoever happens to be around when her lip gloss goes scarlet.

All of which means that the words coming from a woman's lips remain the most reliable indicator of her desire or lack thereof. Go figure.

I don't really worry that "Her lip gloss turned red!" will one day be a successful defense in a rape case -- though I wouldn't put it past some lawyers to try -- but I do worry that a marketing strategy like this (tongue-in-cheek though it may be) reinforces the pernicious myth that figuring out whether a woman wants to have sex is some daunting puzzle far beyond the intellectual and emotional capabilities of the average Joe. (It's actually pretty simple. If you have any doubt, ask. If you think asking will ruin the moment, boo hoo; it's no excuse for refusing to put on a condom, and it's no excuse for going forward without clear, enthusiastic consent.) And it's even more troubling that this strategy is being used on a primarily female market. Sure, I can see it working as a bachelorette gift or a gag between already partnered people ("Did you notice what color my lip gloss is, honey?"), but beyond that, it's playing on a bunch of creepy retro ideas about femininity. That women who want sex are supposed to be coy about it, that we're supposed to send plausibly deniable signals instead of admitting what we want, that we must make ourselves approachable but never do the approaching ourselves, lest we be written off as aggressive sluts. All of which, guess what, reinforces the belief that women never give a straight answer about whether they're in the mood, which means men can't be expected to figure it out -- and women can't be trusted when they report that they did not consent.

I know, whatever, it's just lip gloss. But the fact that someone thought women would love a product that says "I want sex" to anyone standing nearby -- because using our words is just too hard, apparently -- is a serious turn off.


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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