THE BLOG

Porn and Sex Ads in Newspapers: We're Not Buying It

18/03/2016 17:12 GMT | Updated 16/03/2017 09:12 GMT

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is currently considering whether to bring a class action against porn and sex advertisements in British tabloid newspapers, specifically The Sport which runs hundreds of these ads in every issue, but also free newspapers such as the Metro and the Evening Standard. This comes after concerns raised by the pressure group Not Buying It that the presence of such ads in newspapers essentially contravenes every ASA Code.

Currently ASA rules only on individual advertisements, which means that if a complaint was upheld a pornographer could simply offer up a different ad for the next edition of the newspaper. The 'project approach' would close the loophole by allowing ASA to make a blanket ruling about a specific sector (newspapers) or group of advertisers (pornographers) in order to bring them into line with Advertising Codes.

Dr Sasha Rakoff, Director of Not Buying It, points out that without a project approach "the porn and sex industries are basically untouchable and can continue their promotion in newspapers unchecked."

Aside from the child protection issue, which according to ASA is at the heart of their work, there can be no question that these pornography and sex ads contravene the Harm and Offense principle of the ASA Code which states: "Marketers should take account of the prevailing standards in society and the context in which a marketing communication is likely to appear to minimise the risk of causing harm or serious or widespread offence."

'Prevailing standards' in themselves do not necessarily protect women and girls: within our culture the message that women are there for the sexual gratification of men is a highly visible one. The Star still publishes an image of a nearly-naked teenager on its third page every day, and the tabloids in general are renowned for their sexually objectifying images of women, as are many advertisements. The drip-drip of normalising references to porn and prostitution in t.v. programmes popular with young viewers; the growth of lap-dancing clubs on the High St; the sexualised shop window displays in outlets such as Ann Summers; all add up to a public wallpaper of sexually-objectified images of women which shapes our collective sense of what women are for, to the extent that we no longer notice it.

Those working for ASA itself are not uniquely exempt from this conditioning. Complaints about the Protein World ads last year are a case in point: the use of an image which, rather than sending a message of fitness and health, gave us the usual passive, inviting, sultry glamour pose was not recognised as offensive to women and the complaints were not upheld.

What cannot be disputed is the risk of harm caused by these ads, particularly within the context in which they are used. The notion that women can be bought for sex is not one which occurs spontaneously to children, it is an idea which is presented to them and created for them. To plant this idea in children's heads through the context of a non age-restricted publication should alarm us all, especially at a time when the NSPCC has found that 10% of 12/13 year-olds are addicted to pornography. Promotion creates demand and we should not, as a society, be creating the demand for porn through our daily newspapers.

The Government is currently consulting on how to make all internet pornography age-restricted but this makes no sense if the industry continues to advertise itself through national newspapers. Children aside, these ads send out a clear message to everyone that viewing pornography and buying women for sex are socially acceptable pursuits in the UK. Becca Mordan of Not Buying It, points out: "Pornography is not just 'people having sex.' 90% of porn shows violence against women and the sex industry is hugely abusive for the vast majority of women in it."

Along with the invitation to become consumers of material which exploits and damages women, ads such as 'Horny Girls - thousands of 18/19 year-olds to choose from! (Text: TEENS)' influence attitudes towards women generally, putting all girls and women at risk. A recent YouGov survey commissioned by the End Violence Against Women Coalition has revealed that 85% of women aged 18-24 have experienced unwanted sexual attention in public places and 45% have experienced unwanted sexual touching. As long as we advertise women and girls as sexual products to buy through a daily national newspaper, these attitudes of entitlement to women's bodies will continue to be reinforced as 'normal.'

Here is an opportunity to take away one particularly pernicious brick in the edifice of enabling cultural messages which harm women and girls and, if we are serious about protecting women, ASA's decision on sex and porn ads in newspapers has to be a no-brainer.