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John Buckeridge calls for a fightback against the sexualisation of children

While reading a newspaper during my commute to work today I turned the page to find a large advert featuring a young man of average looks being cuddled by two attractive women who were wearing very little clothing. The ad was for a Nikon camera. In small print the Nikon’s technical features were listed, but the main image and message of the ad was very unsubtle. The fact that sex is used to sell goods isn’t news to anybody. Even ‘family friendly’ Mr Kipling is in on the act now. Last month a TV ad aired featuring Mrs Kipling eating an Oatibake (a new cake range) while in bed, next to her, Mr Kipling snores. The ad ends with her saying, ‘I wish he was as exceedingly good at everything else.’ How do you feel about that? Is it a harmless joke, albeit in slightly bad taste, or does it represent something more serious? As Christians, we need to be careful that we don’t just sound off about everything in culture that offends us. We’d get very hoarse very quickly. But we do need to highlight and address the damaging effect that sexsaturated advertising has on everything from our own experience of intimacy to the selfesteem of our children. Mark Greene helpfully highlights this month (page 68) how ads spread lies about what it means to be a woman and a man. He writes that the language of empowerment and freedom that feminists espoused has been hijacked. Empowerment wasn’t meant to mean empowered to become a poledancer and freedom was not intended to mean freedom to have casual, emotionless sex with whoever you wanted. The government recently published a report on the sexualisation of young people. The report highlights how children and young people are bombarded by more sexual images and messages than ever before in advertising and other communications and that this ‘unprecedented rise’ is ‘impinging on everyday life’. From airbrushed photos that promote unhealthy body shapes, which girls try to copy at their peril – to billboard nudity that debases women and pushes cancerous images into our consciousness every time we pass a roadside hoarding, we live in a sex-saturated culture, which is corrupting a glorious God-given gift. Something wonderful and precious is being prostituted to drive up profits with little or no thought for the corrosive damage this causes. The government report makes various constructive recommendations (homeoffice. which the Home Office is currently considering. It could become an election issue if enough people want it to be. What we have already learned from experience is that hitting companies in their pocket is an effective strategy. Even Nestlé overcame its reluctance to begin adopting Fairtrade practices when rival Cadbury switched to Fairtrade for its high profile Dairy Milk brand. Every time you buy a product you can help influence company policy, including the sort of ads they show to promote their cakes, cars or chocolate bars. Let’s withdraw our custom from companies who corrupt us with their sleazy ads or airbrushed lies. And let’s be up front and tell them why we are rejecting their brands. But it’s important that we don’t turn into Mary Whitehouse clones – let’s scorn the frequent lack of imagination ad agencies have, let’s mock their repetitive attempts to link their product with sex to drive up sales, but let’s not be defined only by what we are against. Let’s celebrate those companies which choose to follow a different course – like Apple who is removing applications from its App Store that contain sexually explicit material.

You and I might not feel powerful but we are not powerless. Evil spreads when good people do nothing.