The Media Column: 'Sex sells; it is used to chase the pocket money of the young'

When Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor talked recently of a danger to the future health and happiness of children, he was not talking about obesity. It was their mental and spiritual health he had in mind - a lack of soul food rather than a surfeit of burgers, chips and chocolate.

Yet it was the pudginess of many young people, and the culpability of TV advertising in making them so, that last week dominated the Bafta debate: "Should Advertising to Children Be Banned?". Although a large percentage of the audience agreed that "certain products" other than junk food should not be advertised on television, none of them could provide an example. Except me.

How about adult magazines, such as "the world's best men's weekly", Zoo, I asked, having seen an ad for the blokes' title - latest issue coverlines include "Football Sex Scandals", "I was roasted" and "Dogging & Orgies" - on ITV1 at about 9.30am one Saturday morning? In reply, Andy Barnes, the sales director of Channel 4, talked briefly about the possible need for a review of what is acceptable and what isn't, a set of criteria to be laid down by Ofcom, once it opens its doors properly for business.

Then it was back to Big Macs and bulging waistlines - a serious problem, without doubt, but no more so, as the Cardinal's remarks emphasised, than the problems being caused by the media's portrayal of sex. Sex sells and, despite frequent calls for responsibility within the media industries, it is used more and more in an unwholesome chase for the pocket money of the young.

Almost two years ago the schools watchdog, Ofsted, urged teachers to do more to counter the acceptance in teenage magazines that underage sex is normal, commenting that "the underlying, but inaccurate, message sometimes seems to be that all young people are sexually active." Soon afterwards, the Broadcasting Standards Commission reported that one in eight viewers thought soap operas - especially Coronation Street and EastEnders - were unsuitable for children. Screened before the 9pm watershed and crammed with sex, they are, Barnes confirmed, still favourite viewing for children (less than 10 per cent of the television watching of children is actually of programmes made for them).

The execrable Zoo, a blatantly titillating title for the less literate, obviously isn't concerned where its profits come from. Locked in a circulation battle with the risqué, but largely inoffensive, Nuts, it has slashed its £1.20 cover price to 50p, giving it a 10p advantage over its also cut-price rival. For this pocket-money price it offers such "cute words for tits" as "penis pillows".

But the lads' mags are almost demure compared with some of those targeting young women. Recalling that the relaunch of the fortnightly more was accompanied by a press release in which Dawn Bebe, the managing director of women's media at Emap, commented, "research shows that there is a real thirst among 18- to 25-year-old women for something new and different", I bought a copy in order to discover exactly what slaked such thirst.

The current cocktail includes such ingredients as an alleged eavesdrop on an internet chatroom discussion about "my penis is so big, my girlfriend says it hurts", tips on "how to get him to give you better oral" and a spread headlined "You confess", in which, allegedly, the readers themselves graphically describe mind-boggling sexual highlights of shopping trips with the boyfriend.

Sales figures for the second six months of last year showed that each issue of more sold an average of 259,550. It is impossible to ascertain how many of those fell into the hands of early- to mid-teen girls, or how many hits the more website - "Give good head - treat his penis like an ice lolly" - gets from young kids who were unable to afford "only £1.75" for a copy from newsagents and unaware of its content, or the worries of Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor.

* Following my observations in this space on the Daily Mirror's 3am Magazine, I received a most lucid letter from a member of its production staff. Far from, as I wrote, the magazine team believing that the newspaper has totally lost its way, he insisted: "I am inordinately proud to be on this paper." He and other team members saw their role as helping to boost the Mirror circulation to back over two million and "trying to revive the spirits of this once-great institution".

In the face of such admirable passion, I concede that I must have been ill-informed on this point.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Urgent Requirement - Central Manchester

£20000 - £23000 per annum + 20 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Marketi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Guru Careers: Social Media Executive / SEO Executive

£20 - 25K + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Social Media...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions