Demise of lads’ mag Nuts is no victory for women

Not so nuts? Dave Thompson/PA

The probable closure of Nuts magazine marks a huge blow to the lads’ mags industry. Following closely behind the closure of rival Front, it is evident that the lad’s mags market has entered a period of vast decline. With a readership of more than 300,000 in 2004 (the magazine’s first year of publication) to dwindling figures of 53,000 in the latter half of 2013, the closure of Nuts magazine doesn’t come as a surprise.

But this does not mean, as some might like to think, that such media is no longer in demand. We cannot ignore the pervasive issues that continue to exist surrounding the commodification of sex and sexuality. The closure of Nuts is not the result of a shift in cultural attitudes towards sex; it is the result of a growth in online pornography. Why pay £1.80 for the watered-down porn in Nuts magazine when you can access all genres of hardcore porn online for free?

At its peak, Nuts followed in the footsteps of Loaded and FHM, magazines that were capitalising on a culture of laddism. And so a hedonistic lifestyle of binge drinking, football as religion and sex without commitment became the overwhelming theme of the lad’s mag. The imagery and content of Nuts proceeded to adopt more overtly sexualised marketing strategies than that of its predecessors, pushing the boundaries of imagery that “wasn’t quite porn” to the limits.

Content analysis from my own research found that the number of images of topless women in Nuts in 2004 was a mere two, compared to forty in 2012. The magazine also grew to include dozens of advertisements for escort services and pornography in its back pages.

With titles such as “When Boobs are Big!”, “The Naked Issue!” and “100 Very Booby Babes!” it is shocking that Nuts was sold as an unregulated media form in family shops. According to a weak voluntary code of conduct that retailers can choose to follow or ignore (with most choosing to ignore it), a six-year-old could buy a copy of Nuts and a shop assistant would legally have to serve him.

But despite the supposed “tsunami of internet porn” that has caused the magazine to fold, it is still positive that Nuts is closing. Key to the sexist nature of the magazine was its normalisation. The lack of visibility of lad’s mags at least puts pornography back in its rightful place.

Past editors, such as Piers Hernu, have always defended the magazines’ place in the mainstream, calling parents who wanted lads’ mags covered up a “busy body group of mother hens” who are “very overprotective about their children”. The disappearance of Nuts will of course be welcome news to these “overprotective” parents who don’t want their children exposed to a crude and sexually objectified state of femininity.

While parents and feminists alike are celebrating this marked reduction of pornography from the mainstream consumer market, the larger trend towards consuming pornography online still leaves much work to be done. As exemplified by Nuts, once a culture of sexual consumers is created, sexual appetites respond accordingly by wanting more.

Pornography as a cultural product bears many similarities to Nuts, mostly in terms of how it constructs women as sexually submissive and men as sexually active. This construction, whether it be in the mainstream or the online world, needs to change. As it stands the score is Nuts 0 – Online Pornography 1. Women however, are yet to win in either game.