Lucy-Ann Holmes’ burgeoning No More Page 3 campaign may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and brings about the demise of that less than lauded British institution, the topless young ladies gracing page 3 of The Sun newspaper.

Although topless, nearly so or merely well-cleavaged women are ubiquitous in the advertising world, it is The Sun’s Page 3 that has become the, well, poster girl for this practice and the low-grade sexual frisson it gives its fans. As such it is naturally a high-priority target for the current wave of feminists, fighting with some success on multiple fronts from Page 3 to lads’ mags, internet porn, lap dancing clubs and even sexually inappropriate beer pump clips.

Feminist progress is well overdue in our society, a necessary antidote to several millennia of emotionally and sexually repressive patriarchal rule that ultimately victimises everyone. This repression is what prompted Page 3 in the first place.

Stephanie Rahn

Unwittingly or otherwise, editor Larry Lamb tapped into a deep vein in the British male psyche when he introduced topless nudity to The Sun on 17 November 1970 with German model Stephanie Rahn. There’s a picture of her on the ‘net, sitting naked in a field with her legs drawn up, arms resting on her knees, one attentive nipple exposed in its then-shocking totality. Rahn stares directly at the viewer, her half-smile free of sexual inflection. The picture has a naïve quality, more naturist’s snapshot than pornographic still. She is no doubt bemused at a German girl initiating what would become a peculiarly British institution.

On the surface, it’s hard to imagine that someone as seemingly benign as Stephanie Rahn gave rise to so much fuss

On the surface, it’s hard to imagine that someone as seemingly benign as Rahn gave rise to so much fuss. But Page 3 and other sexually exploitative media don’t exist simply because some men like to look at pictures of nude women. They exist in response to an impulse that otherwise has no legitimate social outlet (or at least semi-legitimate; we are dealing with a Rupert Murdoch organisation here).

A deeper malaise

Page 3 is a superficial symptom of a deeper malaise: the lack of avenues for sexual expression that many men experience, sometimes for their entire lives. For all the strides made by feminism in empowering women to lay full claim to their sexuality, no similar advances have occurred for men. Many are still stuck in a paradigm where they are supposedly capable of both attracting sexual partners and satisfying them when the reality is starkly otherwise, creating a growing pool of men completely unable to negotiate the loosening of panty elastic.

Traditional male reluctance to seek help for sexual issues compounds the problem. The more women are—quite rightly—emboldened to demand higher standards from potential partners, the more men consign sex to the ‘too hard’ bin. Instead they seek solace through sublimation—work, pedantic male hobbies, cars and boats named after women—or the obvious gravitation to pornography.

Continued in Part II.