It’s not often that I unleash my inner self, but the way young girls today are expected to conform to a hideous porn culture makes me want to don a pair of glasses with upswept frames and get myself one of those battleaxe perms. A friend’s daughter recently started at a highly regarded boarding school.
When her mother asked how she was enjoying the mixed-sex environment, the girl said quietly: “You have to give the boys oral sex or they get cross.” Reeling with shock, the mum protested that her darling daughter did not have to do anything of the sort. “Oh yes you do,” replied the girl. “And you have to shave down there or the boys don’t like it.”
The girl in question is not some brazen, street-smart sixth-former; she is 14 years old. With a woman’s body, perhaps, but still a child. A child who, as far as her parents were concerned, was leading a sheltered middle-class life, not auditioning to become a professional footballer’s WAG.
Teenagers have always had secrets, places where they go to try on their new selves, be it the pages of a padlocked diary or the back row of the movies. But mine is the first generation of parents that has to protect its young not just in the world we can see and hear, but in a parallel, online universe for which we barely know the password. And it’s really tough. Tougher even than we know.
This week, both Labour’s Diane Abbott and Tory MP Claire Perry have spoken powerfully about the need to take action to protect vulnerable girls. Perry was accused of “snooping” when she suggested that parents should monitor their child’s Facebook and texts.
Meanwhile, Abbott pointed out that fast-developing technology and a “pornified culture” has led to what she calls “a secret garden, striptease culture in British schools and society, which has been put beyond the control of British families”. Only last week, we heard the awful story of Chevonea Kendall-Bryan, who fell to her death after pleading with a boy on the pavement below to erase the recording of her performing a sex act on him.
“How much can I handle? HONESTLY. I beg you, delete that,” texted Chevonea. She was 13. Thirty years ago, keeping your kids safe was a doddle. The nearest your average boy got to pornography was a contraband Playboy, which looks as quaint and charming as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady next to websites such as YouPorn.
I spent three minutes looking at YouPorn yesterday and I felt like I needed at least three years in a darkened room listening to the B minor Mass to reconstitute my soul. What the hell would this writhing abyss look like to a 14-year-old who has never seen a penis?