Lads' mags banished to the top shelf

New guidelines mean 'Loaded' and its rivals will be displayed next to pornography, out of reach of children

Two women wearing nothing but G-strings stare out seductively from the cover of a magazine. Standing close together, they are arm-in-arm and their breasts are touching. The reader is clearly invited to imagine them having sex.

On the cover of another magazine, a heavily made-up woman shows her cleavage. Below that she is covered up, and almost demure. Which of these magazines is considered pornography?

The answer is the second one, featuring the clothed woman. But Penthouse is banished to the top shelves of the newsagents, away from the sight of children. The magazine that features the two nearly-naked models is Loaded, seen as nothing more than a cheeky "lads' mag" and subject to no censure in the shops. Until now.

Loaded and the other magazines such as Nuts and FHM that flourished with it after the "lads' culture" explosion of the Nineties are to be placed out of reach of children, and displayed next to old-fashioned porn.

The Home Office has agreed new guidelines with the National Federation of Retail Newsagents. The deal was welcomed as a "step in the right direction" by MPs and campaigners, who have been calling for legislation. The guidelines are not legally binding but trading standards will be able to reprimand offending outlets.

The feminist critic Beatrix Campbell called the move "very positive", although it was criticised by female sex writers. The new guidelines will also affect the Daily and Sunday Sport. They will be able to remain on the bottom shelf if they are folded in such a way that the sexually explicit images are hidden.

The Labour MP Diane Abbott said: "Some of the stuff now available in news-agents should be out of the reach of children. This is a step in the right direction."

A comparison of leading "lads' mags" and pornographic magazines revealed a similar number of sexually explicit images in both. However, the covers of the "lads' mags" featured women with less clothes on than the pornography titles.

Ms Campbell said: "For the overwhelming majority of women it is a horrid feeling to see these images, possibly every day. Given the prevalence of crimes of oppression against women, like rape and domestic violence, this is a very positive cultural intervention by the Home Office."

But there was criticism from sex writer Kate Taylor, the author of A Woman's Guide to Sex and a former sex columnist for GQ: "The real boobs on show here are those that think lads' magazines are pornography," she said. "Lads' mags contain roughly as much porn as a Carry On film."

The editor of one of Britain's best-selling lads' mags, Nuts, said he sympathised with campaigners who wanted his magazine displayed out of the reach of children. "As a parent myself, I don't think it should be sat next to Disney Princess magazine," said Phil Hilton. "But this is a mainstream men's magazine. If you put it down on a table next to a porn magazine it would take two seconds to work out which is which."

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