In 2004, two things of significance happened to me. I turned thirteen years old, and the Hustler shop opened in the middle of Birmingham city centre.
In 2004, two things of significance happened to me. I turned thirteen years old, and the Hustler shop opened in the middle of Birmingham city centre. To call it simply “the Hustler shop” is to greatly understate the effect of such an enterprise. The outside coloured a bright Amsterdam red, this shop was two entire floors of brazen sexual liberty imposing itself on a reserved high street opposite Marks & Spencer. This is a store which cost £4.7 million to open, and was projected to take £2.5 million in its first year.
As giggling teenagers, we would stop by on the way home to cheekily peruse through goods we were far too embarrassed to properly inspect but pretend to be well versed in their uses. Of course, not one of us were ever brave enough to purchase anything but Henry Barber came closest, nearly buying a keyring with a pair of breasts on for his also thirteen year old girlfriend. I recount this experience because it distinctly was the most effective sexual education I received during my time in school. I attended a culturally repressed secondary school, conveniently Christian only when it came to deciding which topics were appropriate for assembly.
Beyond biology, our form tutors were given the awkward task of struggling through conversations covering real topics. Relationships are key to the forming of a young person’s identity, and having a safe environment where leaders are able to connect with young people and teach young people the value of themselves, the price of a relationship, and the definition of love is key. Teaching young people to separate their self-worth and validations from their relationships with others at an early stage can prevent a lifetime of negative cycles, damaging relationships and exposure to physical and emotional abuse. Fortunately, a few friends and I were able to get this kind of support from a pioneering youth club but many others do not have these protective safe spaces where high quality emotional welfare support is given.
Regardless of my personal views on Diane Abbott, the woman has a point. On January 22 she urged a national consultation over the “hyper-sexualisation” of children and the “pornification” of culture in the UK. We are all familiar with jovial stories of teenage boys attempting to access porn via a dial-up connection, but imagine the modern equivalent? Eleven year old children have blackberries and iPhones with unmonitored internet access, porn is available through a quiet click of the ‘incognito window’ or ‘private browsing’ session. Windows Internet Explorer even ran a thinly veiled campaign advertising this feature (yes, of course you were planning on buying your wife a present…definitely).
One cannot mention inappropriate content on the internet without everyone’s favourite “Chat Roulette”. There isn’t time to go into details, but have a quick browse of the Urban Dictionary definitions; my favourite being ‘nothing more than an online circle-jerk’. Pornography and graphic imagery is increasingly accessible, and it is not an exaggeration to say it is easier to find hardcore porn than free and full access to some academic journals. By developing the debate from our ‘increasingly sexualised culture’ (something we’ve all been fairly desensitised to) and upping the game to our ‘increasingly pornified culture’, one cannot deny the development.
And of course, there is slut-shaming. 2012 brought an epidemic of teenage girls vilifying each other for the smallest things, from a top that was too low cut (shop bought, so…) to too much, or too little make up. Those of us who are on Tumblr had the pleasure of seeing our dashes filled with four framed storyboard of teenage girls attempting to make a point—not realising all they are doing is adding fuel to a fire of unresolved issues in a collective young feminine identity.
Assuming that the increased availability of sexual literature coupled with this unresolved and unkempt teenage female identity is truly posing a problem, the next issue is – who is there to solve it? Of course, no-one’s first answer is a politician because honestly, no-one’s first answer is ever a politician. If you want a problem solved, you pretty much never bother with a politician. However in this case, who else is there? The third sector is not equipped to fill a gap of this size, and the little provision there is available to work with young people in the past would have gone to assisting women trapped in sexual exploitation or abusive relationships. Nowadays, any third sector funding is more likely to go on a ‘big-society volunteering project’ with the influence and longevity of a copulating fruit fly than a project that needs it.
The private sector has a damaging habit of turning any ‘social action enterprise’ into just an ‘enterprise’, and as much as I hate to admit it, the public sector is best placed to begin to instigate change that will be widespread enough to actually generate this cultural change and ‘revolutionised’ sex education that Diane Abbott is talking about. Begrudgingly I admit that only a politician can really tackle this issue in today’s climate. I just wish it were a politician I liked.