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Monday, March 15, 2010


The last few months have seen a growing clamour regarding the sexualizing of children by parents, by the media, by retailers, by the music industry and by children themselves. This 'clamour' has been evoked by journalists, by books like Natasha Walter’s Living Doll, Pamela Paul’s Pornified and most recently by the Home Office's commissioned review into the ‘Sexualisation of Young People’ by Dr Linda Papadopoulos, the very media savvy Canadian psychologist who has appeared on TV programmes such as ‘My Big Breasts and Me’, ‘Celebrity Fit Club’ and ‘Big Brother’.

However, it wasn't until David 'call me Dave' Cameron jumped onto this august bandwagon and announced that he was, hand on heart, gravitas on face, 'very concerned that strap-ons and dungeonized Wendy-Houses were now being offered to five year olds' that things got really serious. Cameron’s carefully thought out response was that the Conservatives were going to rush through legislation that would ban ‘manipulative marketing techniques aimed at young people’, ‘strengthen the regulatory framework and give people the power to make complaints’, oh and ‘make Britain the most family-friendly country in the world’. So no pie-in-the-sky, knee-jerk policies there then.

Meanwhile, back on earth, the Home Office’s breathy new sexpert Dr Papadopoulos was appearing on countless TV shows, breasts heaving, lampooning lads mags and Beyonce videos for being too sexual. In actuality though Papadopoulos’s Home Office’s report covers a wide variety of topics, everything from the Internet, to sexual imagery’s impact on boys and girls, to relationships, to sexual violence and coercion, to pornography, computer games, fashion, music videos and body image. It is also full of sympathetic buzz words and phrases, of isms and concern. It talks of bullying - the new minority grouping, if you haven’t been bullied yet you soon will be - and partner violence.

The report is, in fact, a whole new layer of child protection, censorship, bullying and new words in the making, yet at its core are some very relevant concerns that should be addressed. The question is whether the media and, more importantly, the government, is capable of looking at anything that mentions children, sex, adults and the internet in the same breath, without immediately being consumed by apoplexy or, as David Cameron was, being compelled to adopt ‘concerned’ facial expressions and concoct legislative ideas out of thin air.

The reality is that children and adults now have access to hardcore pornography at the click of a button. Never in history has the human race had such a wealth of information, communication, imagery and graphic sexual material available, whether wished for or not. None of us know the long terms effects that such exposure will have on us or more particularly on young people growing up from birth in the age of the Net.

Already, theorists and psychologists and behaviorists have expressed concern at the inability of some children and teenagers to converse and fraternize with other people in a face-to-face situation. Though I tend to think that this is just using extreme examples to make a point rather than a comment on the young generally. However, without doubt, technology is changing our lives and none more so than the lives of the young and it is their unfettered ability to access ‘anything’ that is so alarming because it has no precedent, ever.

From head-hacking Taliban nasties, to gross-out anal gape videos to standard pornography to car crashes and celebrity sex tapes the whole lexicon of mans vileness and crassness is there for all to see at the click of a button. So as adults we can, if we chose to watch, deal with seeing anal gang bangs and watching Britney Spears chomping on her boyfriends penis, but can and should a ten year old? The answer is no.

As pre-Internet children, our journey to sexual awakening was varied and in many cases difficult. Some of us, no doubt depending on our age, saw adult magazines, TV programmes, films or videos, or whatever but in most cases these exposures would have been limited and for most of us seeing strong sexual content or pornography would have been rare. For many teenagers or children it would just have never happened. Now, given Internet access via mobiles, peer pressure and availability, I suspect that most teenagers and some children have looked at pornography a lot.

It may well be that exposure to strong sexual material will just be part of the rich tapestry of life in the 21st Century and maybe it will be. Certainly censorship isn’t the answer though education and sensible parenting is, though without an hysterical ‘something must be done’ approach from politicians and the media to drive our sensibilities. In fact far more invasive than pornography is the drip, drip of sexed-up imagery aimed at impressionable prepubescents,and child/adult crossovers that appear more and more in the media. Like Katie Price’s pictures of her three year old daughter heavily made up and looking like some bizarre hooker that she posted on Twitter or the sight of five and six years being dressed in sexually styled clothes by their parents who see it as cool. Yet in many ways these are the effects of the bombardment of imagery we all see and perhaps childhood is changing or adapting to the new technology as it must. Dr Linda Papadopoulos”s report and books like Living Doll are just some of the early manifestations of what will be an ongoing debate as people come to terms with the pornographization of the world and that the sexual act is now never more that a click away.

Porn is always the driver of new technology. Photography, film, video, DVD and the Internet have all been exploited commercially by the sex industry and now technology has made porn mainstream. Female pubic hair has all but vanished, breast augmentation and labia enhancement have been driven by women’s ability to see other women’s bodies in ways once unimaginable and equally perceive men’s responses to them. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is another argument and one that Dr Papadopoulos touched upon with her comments on body image but the fact is we are changing, our relationships, our sexual expectations, our emotions and how we respond to one another are all in transition and it is inevitable that we should be concerned. After all if Adam and Eve had had access to the internet its a sure bet that they would have posted and Twittered the first sex tape minutes after Eve bit into that Apple...

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