Sex chat in teen magazines spurs call for controls

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The Independent Online
COLIN BROWN

Chief Political Correspondent

Age restrictions could be imposed on teenage magazines under Tory plans to curb the amount of explicit sex advice on offer to children.

The sex advice to under-age teenagers in some of the magazines has shocked Conservative MPs and some major supermarket chains, including Sainsbury's and Asda, as well as WH Smith, the retail newsagent, have refused to stock one particular title, after complaints by parents.

A Bill to enforce new curbs on teenage magazines is to be introduced by Peter Luff, the Tory MP for Worcester, who said he was shocked to discover what his own children were reading.

"I was very surprised by the content of these magazines. It is quiet explicit sex advice. Should we be allowing children to have magazines with advice on masturbation and oral sex?"

Mr Luff is preparing a Bill to introduce certification controls, like those on cinema films, establishing a recommended age limit for children to read certain magazines.

It would also establish an independent panel to decide on the certificates for magazines, and to hear complaints. Magazines would carry advice to parents, saying "not suitable" for children under certain ages.

As a backbencher, his Bill will have little chance of success without government help. But he is using the measure to try to force the hand of the Home Secretary, Michael Howard.

The Home Office has refused to give him any commitment to introduce legislation, but ministers are known to be concerned about the magazines. Mr Luff believes his Bill will be the catalyst for a campaign which will lead to some form of restraint on the teenage magazines.

When he presents his Bill to the Commons, he plans to quote articles from the Independent which have highlighted the controversy surrounding articles in such magazines as Sugar, Mizz, TV Hits and Just Seventeen. An issue of Sugar, aimed at 13- to 18-year-old girls, includes "first time sex - how to get it right", with a problem page request for advice on mutual masturbation.

One 14-year-old, quoted in the Independent in November, said: "In this month's Sugar it's got someone writing in, asking 'what's wanking yourself?' - It's easier to look at it on a problem page because it's private. In class, if you wanted to know the answer to something you would have to put your hand up and that's really embarrassing in front of your mates."

WH Smith, Sainsbury's, Asda and Tesco joined a list of retailers who withdrew TV Hits in November, after complaints by parents. But the publishers defended having given a 16-year-old girl advice on oral sex.

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