Now playing at the EU: soft porn

The European Union is falling for sex as a legitimate marketing tool. That sends the wrong message.

Three million and growing: That's the number of Web clicks on a steamy promotional video on the European Union's new link to YouTube. Two hundred and crawling: That's the number of clicks on an EU road-safety video. Sadly, the EU has fallen for the tawdry marketing motto that sex sells.

First, a little background. The EU has a tough time selling itself to skeptical Europeans. In 2005, the French and Dutch rejected a proposed EU constitution, and the continentals are pushing back at the idea of adding more members to this club of 27 countries.

But in the cultural realm, apparently, it's easier to make the case for togetherness, especially when it's spiced with a 44-second sprint through 18 torrid sex scenes taken from European films. The clip is one of five that advertise the EU's support for European cinema.

Moral objections to the vulgar snippet have been especially strong in heavily Roman Catholic Poland. But the official EU response is to decry the criticism as an "outbreak of prudery," and a comment that "the European Union is not the [American] Bible Belt."

What a tired defense – a repeat of the invalid argument that morality is a narrow-minded, oldfashioned matter for the faithful, while graphic, sexual openness is cool and, besides that, a very successful marketing tool.

In buying this view, the EU is actually contributing to the mainstreaming of pornography, a growing and disturbing global phenomenon. Whether it's on the Internet, in magazines, music videos, ads, or fashion, sexed-up imagery is ubiquitous. Soft porn has moved from underwear retailers to nonprofits.

With the EU video clip, it's reached the point of taxpayer funding. That only adds to the offense.

Europeans might maintain that the sexual imagery they use is a more "natural" portrayal, while it's the Americans who are doing damage by combining sex and violence in the media and turning girls into women through sexed-up images of adolescents as adults and adults as adolescents.

Indeed, the American Psychological Association released a study in February on the sexualization of girls that found such imagery can lead to depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, poor school performance, and can also negatively affect girls' sexual development.

Ask the Dutch, meanwhile, what they now think about "natural" prostitution after nearly 20 years of legalization. International crime groups have moved into Dutch brothels and cross-border trafficking of women and children has increased. Politicians from the left and right now support closing at least some of the brothels.

Prostitution, of course, is not the same as the common practice of many European news magazines to feature topless women – or the same as the offending EU video. But they have this in common: They present people (most often females) as a summation of body parts, as mere objects valued for looks and sexual performance. This buries an individual's humanity, respect, and self-worth.

The EU should realize that not every popular trend should be paraded before the public. Soft-porn imagery is not only morally offensive, but harmful. Sex may sell, sadly, but it comes at a cost, too. Governments should know better.

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