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Me vs raunch culture. Or not.

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Stand back and lock up your Wonderbras, because I’m leading the revolt against raunch culture.  I know this because I read it in a newspaper so it must be true.

At first, I was flummoxed as to what I should wear to lead this revolt. Sensible shoes and a sandwich board? A t-shirt saying “Pole dancers be gone”?  Or maybe just a very stern expression. That should do the trick.

It’s difficult to argue against anyone who claims to oppose the sexualisation of children. To do that, by definition you must be in favour of it, right? And what sicko is going to put their hand up to join that team?

However. While there are certainly aspects of pop culture that make me want to throw things, I’m reluctant to leap into bed with the anti-raunch movement or the anti-sexualisation brigade, let alone lead their charge.

And here’s why.

Lately, I’ve noticed that emotive labels like ‘child sexualisation’ are being used as a Trojan horse by extremely conservative or religious groups whose true intentions are to turn back the clock on all sorts of other things.

Things like sex education, access to contraception, information about sexual health and reproductive choices. Not only do I think this is naïve, dishonest and counter-productive, as you may have noticed, most of these issues have nothing to do with children. They relate to teens and young women. Very different.

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And the problem with those who march under reactionary banners like ‘anti-raunch culture’ or ‘anti-sexualisation’ is that they usually cast their net alarmingly wide when it comes to what they oppose. Everything from midriff tops to Dolly Doctor.

That blanket approach simply doesn’t work for me. For example, I’ll defend Dolly Doctor (and similar content in other teen mags) to the moon and back. It’s vital that girls have easy access to info about sex and their bodies written by respected professionals. Midriff tops I’m less passionate about but whatever. Knock yourself out if you want to, you and your belly button ring.

Sure, since I became a parent, my tut-tut radar is more finely tuned. I loathe Bratz dolls, t-shirts that say ‘porn star’, and make-up marketed to 5 year olds. I can’t stand those erection dysfunction radio ads and it’s best not to get me started on the portrayal of women in magazines and music videos or we’ll be here for a loooooong time.

But everyone’s barometer is different and just like you, some things push my buttons more than others. I’m not anti everything and I wouldn’t want to align myself with anyone who is.

In my former life editing a magazine for women aged 16-32, I produced more than a hundred sealed sections. And I don’t regret a single one of them.  Many were about sexual health. Some were about contraception. And many others focussed purely on female enjoyment. Nothing wrong with any of that and it’s no different or more explicit to the material published by women’s mags for more than 30 years.

In fact, one of the biggest challenges for these magazines is how to keep tame relevant when there’s so much uncensored and freely available sex content online.

In the end, I didn’t walk away from editing mags because I became squeamish about raunch but because I could no longer put my hand on my heart and say I was the best person to do that job.

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I was increasingly uncomfortable about digitally altered fashion imagery and I’d reached a time in my life when commissioning sealed sections no longer rang my bells.

Years later, I remain realistic about the fact that adolescent girls have always been curious about sex and sexuality and we needn’t totally freak out about it. Instead, I believe we should try to manage their natural interest by responsibly providing them with the information they seek when they’re seeking it or sometimes a little earlier.

This goes to the heart of the debate about what’s age-appropriate and it’s a tricky one because who is best equipped to judge that? If a girl has questions about sex or contraception when she’s 14 and you think she should be 18 or married, whose interests are being served by denying her that information or delaying her access to it? Not hers.

Unquestionably, there’s a feeling among parents that we’ve lost control over the imagery and messages reaching our kids, particularly via technology, something our own parents never had to contend with.

As a parent, I know exactly what it’s like to feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the constant effort it takes to filter and fend off all the words and pictures coming at my children.

But that doesn’t mean the answer is to run screaming in the other direction and flee with your family to seek refuge in a Mongolian yurt. Tempting as that may be when you think about chatroulette.

I think it’s vital to educate ourselves about technology. It’s here to stay and is only going to grow more influential in our lives and the lives of kids. Ditto pop culture. You need knowledge and context if you want to be part of the debate. And while we should certainly make a noise about things we don’t like, beware of Trojan horses.

Now it’s your turn:
Which aspects of sexuality in pop culture (if any) do you think are actually important for young women? And which push your buttons?

Do you think there’s confusion between raunch culture and the sexualisation of children?

Do you share my concerns about the inherent dangers of railing against EVERYTHING an all-encompassing agenda of issues from Dolly Doctor to padded bras for tweens and reproductive rights?

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