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Lad’s Mags Move on Monday

May 7th, 2005

Dr Petra

From this Monday (9 May), UK supermarket Tesco plans to tackle the increasingly explicit front covers of lad’s magazines.

Following a recent discussion with publishers – which mostly degenerated into a debate about censorship, alongside numerous complaints from parents, MPs, and child protection officers, Tesco will be covering explicit covers with tamer men’s titles.

A spokesperson from the supermarket chain argued they were not trying to censor magazines, but had to be mindful they were a family store, meaning the more explicit magazines were problematic where minors were concerned.

All this discussion reminded me of my PhD, part of which included asking groups of men and women to talk about ‘top shelf’ magazines. Female participants and men who were parents talked about issues around visibility of titles and potential effects on children. Women also described how seeing explicit images of other women on men’s magazines made them feel insecure, anxious and angry. They explained how when they spoke out about these concerns they were made out to be boring, anti-sex killjoys.

Most of the single men interviewed thought the magazines were fun, and any attempt to remove them constituted a breach of their civil rights. They argued if people didn’t like seeing saucy magazines in shops they didn’t have to look at them, and one man even stated that since women were on average shorter than men; magazines on higher shelves would probably be outside women’s normal range of vision.

The difficulty Tesco and other family supermarkets face is that the new breeds of lad’s mags are no longer the domain of the ‘top shelf’. They’re placed within a ‘lifestyle’ category making them visible to all.

Whilst I respect freedom of publication, there does need to be a balance if one person’s idea of free speech interferes with another person’s comfort zone.

But whilst supermarkets keep getting tangled up in censorship debates, perhaps the more important issue is being overlooked. The whole time lad’s mags are presenting more explicit images on their covers and inside their titles, the less space is devoted to giving men the sex information they really need, and the more likely it is their sexual anxieties increase. Which is why over 90% of letters from men in my postbag are about penis-size and performance worries.

Maybe Tesco’s plans won’t make too much of a difference though. Banning or censoring materials has long been a marketing tool to increase sales (take Madonna’s ‘Sex’ book, for example, sold unseen in a plain silver cover). Perhaps making the lad’s mags more like forbidden fruit will add to their popularity.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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