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Pornified Britain

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24 Jan 2013
The notion that the British public space has become 'pornified' excites strong emotions. Libertarians, on both the left and right, begin to froth at the mouth and accuse you of suggesting censorship. If you are a woman you are accused of being a prude or having an unreasonable objection to the naked human form. You are further accused of being the kind of person who, in Victorian times, would have put a frilly cover over piano legs.

But the issue here is not the simple naked human form. It is the commodification of sexuality: there is the saturation of the media, advertising and billboards with images of women which, a generation ago, you would only have seen in top-shelf magazines. There are the t-shirts for little girls emblazoned with "future porn star" and there is the pressure on women to achieve an artificial pornified image. It is not just that Britain spends more on plastic surgery than any country in Europe. But it is significant that one of the growth areas for plastic surgery is women who are convinced their vagina and labia are abnormal and want them 'tidied up'. Their idea of a normal vaginal area has been shaped by porn.

Above all, the issue is the easy availability of hardcore porn on the internet. Obviously, for adults, viewing hardcore porn is their choice. But the average age of kids viewing hardcore porn has dropped from 11 to eight. Primary school children can view on their mobile phones material that would not even have been available in a top-shelf magazine a generation ago. Mobile phones are also being used for so-called 'sexting' - the sending of sexually explicit messages and photographs. Quantative research on sexting has found rates between 15% and 40% in school-age children and increasingly young girls are subject to 'slut shaming' and sexual bullying in schools. Of course the behaviour labelled sluttish in school girls is exactly the behaviour school boys boast about amongst themselves. New technology, same old double standards.

The government pays lip service to being concerned about these issues. But the reality is that local authority spending cuts mean that children's sexual health services are being cut back; the government announced a review of personal, social, health and economics (PHSE) education more than a year ago but appears to be sitting on the results and the Department of Health's sexual health document has been delayed for 19 months and counting.

But there are things government, communities and parents can do. We need Statutory Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education and Sex and Relationships Education (SRE). Sex education should focus on preparing young people to form healthy relationships, and also deal with issues of self-esteem.

Schools should encourage girls to value their bodies in terms of their physical ability. We need more Jessica Ennis, less Paris Hilton.

We need to look at how gender equality issues could be more central on the educational agenda, and throughout the curriculum.

Parents should be given information and support to educate their children about the issues. I do not believe that parents should snoop on their teenagers. Any self-respecting teenager would find a way of getting round that. But parents are a powerful force in shaping their children's attitudes to gender and sexuality, even if children are loathe to admit it.

We must make it easier for parents to block adult and age-restricted material across all media. We also need to help our young people use new technology and media safely.

But perhaps most of all, we need to start a national conversation between parents and their children about sex, pornography and technology.
 
This article was first published here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/diane-abbott/pornified-britain_b_2536786.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003&ir=UK

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