By Hilary White

LONDON, August 5, 2008 ( – The proliferation of “lad mags,” semi-pornographic magazines marketed to young men, are a factor contributing to the breakdown of family life and the loss of fatherhood, says a Tory leader. Michael Gove, the shadow secretary of education, told a meeting this weekend that such magazines contribute to Britain’s declining social breakdown, to teenage sex, and unintended pregnancies.

Speaking to the annual meeting of the Institute for Public Policy Research, Gove said that these publications celebrate a kind of “instant-hit hedonism” that “paint a picture of women as permanently, lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available.”

“The images they use and project reinforce a very narrow conception of beauty and a shallow approach towards women. They celebrate thrill-seeking and instant gratification without ever allowing any thought of responsibility towards others, or commitment, to intrude.”

“We should ask those who make profits out of revelling in, or encouraging, selfish irresponsibility among young men what they think they’re doing.”

Selling up to a half million copies a week, the magazines, called “lad mags” or “laddie mags” in Britain and marketed as “men’s magazines” in the US, are frequently defended on the grounds that they do not qualify as outright pornography. They do, however prominently feature photos of partially clothed or, in the UK, topless models, accompanied by articles about women, usually models or actresses and explicit stories about sex, as well as articles about cars, tools, and electronic toys.

The two magazines Gove cited by name, Nuts and Zoo, feature as many as five nude or semi-nude photos of models or actresses on the cover. These are sold all over Britain in supermarkets and village shops and are not displayed separately in sections reserved for pornography.

Zoo, a weekly, presents articles on “sport, TV, fashion and grooming.” Features in the UK edition include “Zoo’s Knicker Draw,” “The Hot List” and weekly extended “girl” stories and football (soccer) articles. In April 2008, Zoo offered a contest in which the prize was an all-expenses paid divorce. The winner would be able to “unleash themselves back to bachelorhood” and avoid the cost of lawyers. Zoo’s success in the UK and Australia has led to a short-lived edition being produced in South Africa with articles in Afrikaans.

While the Labour government continues to promote explicit “sex education” for younger and younger children to combat the ever increasing rates of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease, a Tory government, Gove said, would take a more holistic approach.

“Our strategies for dealing with teenage pregnancy need to be focused more on young men and their responsibilities,” he said.

The Conservative party, he said, is “committed to supporting family life, and stability and commitment in relationships, precisely because the secure start in life a stable family background provides is the best guarantee of maximising opportunity.”

But mainstream media voices have rejected the notion that there is any causal connection between the pornographic cultural climate and the breakdown of family life. Dan Rookwood wrote in the left-leaning Guardian newspaper that he “laughed” when he heard Gove’s criticisms.

Rookwood, who says he has written for the magazines, ridiculed Gove’s arguments saying, “This rebuke from Gove will be worn as a badge of honour – the equivalent of the cool kid in class getting a ticking off from teacher. And the mags to which he has given free publicity will respond with a contemptuous snigger.”

“Blaming two magazines for everything from ‘teenage pregnancy’ to ‘selfish irresponsibility’ is exactly the kind of lazy generalisation I would expect from absolutely all soggy-biscuit-eating Tories.”