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The U.K. Bans Sexy Billboards With New Rules Governing "Knickers, Whips and Chains"

The British Advertising Standards Authority will prevent sexually suggestive billboard advertising near schools with a set of well-meaning but hilarious guidelines on what counts as "too sexy" for Main Street.

The rules include instructions on minutiae such as how far apart a bikini model's thighs can be spread before they cross the line from "mildly sexual" (OK) to "Sexually suggestive" (not OK); the use of whips and chains; and what the models are doing with their hands.

Complaints about billboards in the U.K. are actually down from 2009, but the new rules follow a popular report by the Mothers' Union which called for retailers and advertisers to stop selling sexy clothing and other products for children.

Although such rules have no chance of being copied in the U.S. for First Amendment reasons, other countries can change the standard of what is considered "acceptable" in advertising internationally.

Most people are against the sexualization of children, but fashion labels such as Prada and magazines like Vogue have poured resources into making children sexy. Vogue did a fashion shoot with a topless 10-year old, and Prada's new fall campaign features a 13-year-old caressing herself sensually.

The new ASA standards try to get a handle on that, but they fall afoul of Justice Potter Stewart's maxim on pornography: he couldn't define it "but I know it when I see it." Among other things, the new regs will control:

  • Poses suggestive of a sexual position: the parting of the legs, accentuation of the hip etc.
  • Exposure of breasts, including partial
  • Suggestion in facial or bodily expression of an orgasm
  • Images of suggestive undressing, such as pulling down a bra strap or knickers
  • Overtly sexual lingerie such as stockings, suspenders or paraphernalia such as whips and chains.
To help advertisers understand the new rules, the ASA published some sample images of acceptable and unacceptable images. The woman in the gold bikini at top will be acceptable, the ASA says, despite her open mouth and exposed skin, because she is only "mildly sexual." The fully clothed couple embracing on the beach, however, could be restricted from placement near schools because it is "suggestive of sexual interaction."

Here's a brief slideshow of some of the more contradictory rules, complete with sample images of acceptable and unacceptable ads.

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"Unlikely to be considered sexually suggestive"

These types of ads will face no restrictions.

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Placement restrictions on "sexually suggestive" images

The ASA says these images might be viewed as sexually suggestive and therefore will not be allowed near schools: "The woman in the image on the left is shown with her legs astride, drawing attention to her groin area, and the woman in the image on the right is shown both in sexy lingerie and in a seductive pose. Those images in ads might be acceptable in some locations but are likely to require a placement restriction, preventing them from being placed in locations of particular relevance to children."

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"Overtly sexual images that are unlikely to be acceptable in outdoor advertising"

The ASA will no longer allows ads like these in any neighborhood: "On the left, a woman in lingerie pulls down the side of her knickers and bra strap in an overtly sexual and seductive way. On the right, the couple are engaged in an overtly sexual embrace: the lingerie, clinch and facial expressions add to the overall impression."

The ASA particularly warned "gentlemen's clubs or sex shops" about their advertising because the public is particularly sensitive to it, the report says.