‘sex and shopping’: meaning and origin

Frequently used attributively, the phrase sex and shopping denotes a genre of popular fiction featuring wealthy and glamorous characters who typically engage in frequent sexual encounters and extravagant spending, especially on designer goods.—Synonym: bonkbuster.

The phrase sex and shopping was originally used in reference to the British novelist and actress Jackie Collins (1937-2015) and to the U.S. novelist Judith Krantz (née Tarcher – 1928-2019).

The earliest occurrences of the phrase sex and shopping that I have found are as follows, in chronological order:

1-: From the U.S. magazine Ladies’ Home Journal of May 1985:

Jackie Collins, charming, vibrant and stunningly attractive, could serve as at least a minor character in one of her sex-and-shopping-among-the-rich-and-famous page-turners.

2-: From Steamy Sex Shop Talk Judith Krantz, an interview of Judith Krantz by Stephanie Mansfield, published in The Washington Post (Washington, District of Columbia, USA) of Tuesday 20th May 1986:

She [i.e., Judith Krantz] describes her work as “good popular.”
Not great? “I wouldn’t say great. I don’t think great and popular go together.”
“It’s not Dostoevsky,” she says. “It’s not going to tax your mental capacities. It’s not ahhrtt. It’s not literature.”
The critics agree. New York Magazine reviewer Rhoda Koenig, noting Krantz’s obsession with shopping and sex and “frantic social climbing,” suggested that “perhaps the only true reader of “I’ll Take Manhattan” is Imelda Marcos.” […]
[…] Sure enough, her powerful brand of S&S (sex and shopping) sold 4.6 million copies and made little Judy Tarcher an overnight success. The most popular girl in the world.

(The fact that this interview of Judith Krantz was reprinted in many U.S. newspapers popularised the phrase sex and shopping.)

3-: From Quotables, in People, edited by Al Cohn, published in Newsday (Long Island, New York, USA) of Sunday 29th June 1986:

I would describe myself as a slightly mature, failed Girl Scout.
—Judith Krantz, the best-selling, sex-and-shopping author.

4-: From The Money Society, by the U.S. journalist and historian Myron Magnet (born 1944), published in the U.S. magazine Fortune of Monday 6th July 1987:

As the stock market roared upward in the 1920s, securities and investing turned from being topics not discussed before ladies to the centerpieces of the politest dinner table conversation. Today we obsessively talk about money almost nonstop: how much they paid for their house, their boat, their painting; how big the deal was; how much this one makes—and that one and that one. We read about it too, not just in Judith Krantz sex-and-shopping novels but in magazines that author Tom Wolfe lumps together as plutography, the graphic depiction of the acts of the rich. Peep into their windows in Architectural Digest, admire their indulgences in Town & Country or Connoisseur, eavesdrop on their gossip in Vanity Fair. Or tune in to the same fare on TV, from the wildly successful Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to the goings-on of their fictional counterparts on Dallas or Dynasty and its clones.

5-: From Aspiring writer requires right locale, by Joan Myles, published in The Windsor Star (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) of Friday 28th August 1987:

I’LL HAVE to move to Hollywood.
It isn’t possible, they say, to write a novel strictly from imagination.
“Write what you know,” they say. After spending a vacation reading my friend Jackie Collins’ collection I’m depressed. I don’t know anything.
It is obvious I don’t know the sorts of people who could help me to a best seller. They may have glamorous occupations—model, bush pilot and such, but their lifestyles would put a reader to sleep.
HARDLY any of the men I know are six foot four, the ideal height for a male hero. None of the women are size four, so no reader would be interested in a detailed description of their wardrobe. They shop at The Bay which doesn’t even carry gold lame with sequins.
As well as sex and shopping—or better yet, sex while shopping—impossible at The Bay—blockbuster novels need parties. Tall, powerful men and size four, steamy women only socialize in a setting of palm trees and pink linen tablecloths, with waiters and bartenders. The party always ends with two handsome men punching each other while their ladies shout rude names at each other.
At the last party I attended there were eight candles on the cake. None of the guests were over five feet tall. It ended with a food fight. No papparazzi [sic] could be seen.

6-: From the Sunday Mirror (London, England) of Sunday 30th August 1987:

REVEALED: How those OTT lady novelists learn the tricks of their trade

■ A STEAMY novel cooked up by a suburban housewife is the theme of a new BBC TV comedy series beginning next week. You Must Be The Husband stars Diane Keen, whose blockbuster becomes a huge success—much to the embarrassment of her suspicious spouse.
■ Diane and Tim Brooke-Taylor play it for laughs. But the reality of the “sex and shopping” industry is deadly serious. The big league women authors leave no silk sheet unturned as they describe sex in raunchy detail.
■ Their books—weighing in at up to 2lb—are said by some to be more concerned with fevered writhing than fine writing. Here Pat Booth, Wendy Perriam, Celia Brayfield and Shirley Conran tell Stuart Brooks their secrets of sexcess.
The Sisters (1lb. 9oz.)
ACCORDING to Pat Booth, you have to be terribly interested in “shopping and sex” to write a book like The Sisters . .
“That’s why I think women do them very well,” says the former model who describes her work as “haute porn.”
“We know a lot about shopping, and we learn a lot about sex on the way.”
Savages (2lb. 1oz.)
SHIRLEY CONRAN’S Savages breaks the “sex-and-shopping” mould by featuring five rich and pampered women marooned in the jungle on tropical island.
There are no shops. Their make-up melts. And they have to cope with terrorists, cannibals, snakes, sharks, storms, leeches—and their passions.
It’s a bit like Lord of the Flies with nail varnish.

7-: From Lust, ambition tempt the bookish woman, by Richard North, published in The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) of Saturday 2nd January 1988:

Jackie Collins dominates the depraved end of the market, at which the novelist’s main problem is to decide whether all her characters will be completely venal and bananas, or only most of them. Only very occasional glimpses of real humanity peek through (though ‘Lucky’ has a genuinely attractive heroine).
I find I am an old romantic and prefer the more wholesome sagas of sex and shopping. In them one is allowed a delicious sense of living on equal terms with women in their boudoirs. Being allowed into the fitting-room world is almost as enticing as the bedroom seen from the feminine angle. But shopping is only the expensive compensation for romance and sex.

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