Ex Men's Magazine Editor, Now A Dad, Calls For Controls On Sexual Imagery

07/06/2011 11:19 | Updated 22 May 2015
Ex men's magazine editor, now a dad, calls for controls on sexual imageryAlamy

The other day, I was having my hair cut, chatting to the barber about holidays and certain footballers' alleged affairs, when in the mirror, I noticed my two sons giggling like monkeys.

'You can see her boobies,' the six-year-old said.

'And her bum-bum,' the three-year-old added.

I ripped the smock from around my shoulders and leapt over to see what was causing my boys' hilarity. In their hands, they were holding a copy of a weekly lads' magazine. The front cover headline yelled: '100 VERY BOOBY BABES.'

Inside, spread across a dozen pages were the 100 photographs of said 'babes' – and they were very booby indeed! These 'girls', aged from 18-25, didn't have a stitch on. There were nipples aplenty; a bonanza of bottoms; though, thankfully, no pubic hair – not because the girls were being discreet, you understand, but because it had been depilated out of existence.

I winced, took the magazine off my sons, then had a word with the barber.

'I'm not being funny, mate,' I said, waving the magazine at him, 'but this is a kids' hairdressers, right? Do you think it's appropriate to leave this kind of stuff lying around?'

The barber just laughed, told me to relax, and added: 'It's just a bit of fun.'

And as a father, that's where I have a problem.

As a society, we have become so conditioned to seeing sexual imagery everywhere – on billboards, in TV advertising, on pre-watershed shows, in music videos, in newspapers and in magazines – that it's now just part and parcel of everyday life. 'A bit of fun,' if you will.

But it's not, is it? Ten years ago – before I became a dad - I was editor of a men's 'lifestyle' magazine. I saw sexual imagery as a bit of fun, too, and was happy to push the boundaries in pursuit of higher sales.

But by today's standards, what we did was incredibly tame.

The first photograph we used on a cover was of a celebrity in a dress – a see-through dress, yes, but a dress nevertheless. Sales plummeted.

So the next cover featured a celebrity in very short hotpants and a vest top.Sales improved.

Then the one after, featured a Z-list celeb in her bra and pants, all spilling cleavage and come-hither smile. And sales soared.

It ain't rocket science is it? Sex sells.

And you have to keep pushing the boundaries for sex to keep selling.

Ten years ago, it was cleavage; today it's nipples and aureolas. What's next? If something isn't done, where will we be in 10 years' time?

This week the Mothers' Union has unveiled proposals to halt this seeping of sexuality into every part of our society. It describes it as sexual 'wallpaper' and is calling for age restrictions for steamy pop videos and for sexualised images in magazines to be covered up on shelves. It also wants parents to be able to bar adult material from any new home internet service, laptop or mobile phone, and give us more of a voice in the TV watershed guidelines.

Ex men's magazine editor, now a dad, calls for controls on sexual imageryRex Features Christine Aguilera

Last year my wife, my nine-year-old stepdaughter, sons and I settled down for a Saturday night of family entertainment to watch the X Factor. Then Christina Aguilera appeared, dressed like an S&M prostitute, backed by dancers, wiggling their bums and thrusting their groins at the camera. I didn't know where to look, my wife didn't know where to look. But the kids just found it funny and leapt to their feet and started copying the actions of the performers.

When we turned the TV off, mid-thrust, our children went ballistic. We told them why, explained that it wasn't appropriate for them to watch, but they protested: 'But it was fun.'

Is that all it is? Are we being too prudish? My children's sexuality hasn't yet awoken but when it does, we want them to learn about sex in the context of a loving relationship, that it comes with responsibilities. Not that it's just a bit of trivial fun. Not that it's a commodity that you can simply pick up off the shelf.

That's my fear as a father of sons. I worry that the constant bombardment of images of young women with their breasts on display, with simpering 'Come-On-Big-Boy' pouts on their faces and 'Take-Me-Here-Take-Me-Now' looks in their eyes will have an insidious and profound effect on the way they view the opposite sex.

I worry that they will only see sex in terms of perfect, airbrushed bodies, pornstar make-up and tarty clothes, when the reality is very different – and a whole lot better.

Of course, it is our job as parents to protect and guide our children, teach them right from wrong, explain the good and bad in society. But sometimes I feel like King Canute, holding my hand up to a rising tide of smut that can't be resisted.

We can't walk around with our hands covering our children's eyes, we can't monitor every ad break, we can't stop them seeing a kids' eye-view of an 'upskirt' shot on the front of a newspaper in the local newsagents.

We need some help. And it seems today, thanks to the Mothers Union, we're going to get some. It's long overdue.

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