Well all that should give pack sex a marvellous boost. With such an ample display of how transgressive society considers a woman having multiple partners at once, the Yoof of today, Generation NexZt, will be onto it pronto. Not since Big Brother and the slap that launched a thousand turkeys has an obscure s-xual practice been given such extended promotional opportunities in the media. And after all, according to The Age, the Kids of Today already use oral sex as a form of casual greeting.

The Johns story has it all — not merely sex, sport and celebrity but class, media politics, and even a whodunit as, like Murder on the Christchurch Express, we discover they all did it — we just want to find out why and how. Meantime the Cronulla Sharks football club — torn from St George in the 1960s to prevent a repetition of that team’s decade-long dominance — is about to implode, with eight losses in a row not counting the financial deficit the club faces.

Theories on the inexplicable appeal of pack sex to (mostly) working-class male footballers are now a dime-a-dozen, with every rent-a-quote commentator from the inevitable Catharine Lumby to Bettina Arndt and all points in-between, including noted Melbourne sexpert Andrew Bolt, offering their own takes which, by a one-in-a-million chance, all happen to reflect their own world views. I thus feel no constraint in suggesting yet another version, perhaps partly based on/mired in my own sordid rugby league career (Maroubra Lions, 1975-78) in which I wore the very colours of the ultimate league miscreants, the poo-in-the-shoe, litigate-your-way-to-victory South Sydney Rabbitohs.

“I don’t want male genitalia shoved down my throat,” league legend and systematic violator of the English language Rex Mossop famously declared, arguably speaking for himself only. In the mass media, it’s not penises and testicles that are the problem, of course, but women’s anatomy. While the days of selling cars by draping a blonde over the bonnet have — alas — gone forever, advertising and the mainstream media have only moved to subtler forms of exploiting sex, bombarding us with a constant array of imagery and themes centring on the simple fact that you — YOU — aren’t getting as much sex as everyone else, and you shouldn’t be happy about that.

Don’t, as Chrissie Hynde may have said, get me wrong. This is not about the related but separate issue of pornography, which takes at least a modicum of effort — two clicks on a mouse, according to Steve Fielding, from the Parliament House IT system — to obtain. This is about what we are bombarded with in the course of ordinary media consumption. Case in point, the website of that fine working man’s journal of record, The Daily Telegraph, where today we learn “Lara Bingle strips off for another raunchy Speedo campaign. See the pictures” and a Gallery provides shots from the Ralph Swimwear Model of the Year, just for starters.

The Tele is only the more extreme version of the new rule that newspaper websites have far more female flesh than the print editions ever will, and it’s a tad unfair to single it out. Sex is the background radiation of media and is effects are ubiquitous. Not unlike, although less pervasive than, the imposition of body image conformity on women, it particularly targets men who should, they are told, be having more sex, with more women, with hard bodies and harder — bigger — penises.

The desire among working class footballers for pack s-x is, I’d venture, partly a product of this. The media’s constant emphasis on sex is selling working class men a product most cannot hope to buy — the Photoshopped model in the magazine, the cheerleader at the footy, the blonde in the beer ad. The result is not so much a Madonna/whore complex as a myth of suburban goddesses — Jennifer Hawkins, ex-Newcastle cheerleader, a prime example. Goddesses who as ordinary people, the media never lets on, have feet, or perhaps br-asts, of clay.

Pack s-x is working class males’ one-fingered salute to the s-xual myths the media has immersed them in since childhood. It is not a question of mere attainability — you don’t even have to be a high-profile player to have as many young women as you want — regular first grade will do.

But pack s-x drags the fantasy of attachment-free sex with readily-available young women into a different domain, one where men are completely in control, where the codes of behaviour are based not on a relationship of equals but on male bonds and hierarchies, where the threat of intimacy is crushed under the weight of pack behaviour.

Moreover, it undermines the relentless message of sexual inadequacy, that others are more sexually successful than you, by equalising all participants. And most of all, pack sex short-circuits the potential for sex to lead to relationships and domesticity — things directly contrary to a team ethos — by stripping it of intimacy, of the potential for emotional and spiritual as well as physical union. Sex is no longer about two individuals, ordinary people with good and bad points, negotiating physical and emotional needs, but about the fellas, the boys, the appeal of the pack, where individuality is sublimated to the group in a reflex hard-wired into the human brain from days long before someone we started organising people to run around fields chasing leather.

The fact that it is now being criticised as inconsistent with social norms will only strengthen its appeal. Nothing strengthens group bonds better than an us-and-them narrative.

The media of course like — more correctly need — to have it both ways. The feeding frenzy of the last week can’t go on for media dependent on rugby league — primarily the Nine Network, where the league rights are one of the few decent assets on the books of the debt-laden foreign funds who own the network, and the Telegraph.

Already there’s talk of Matthew Johns’s rehabilitation, his transformation into a sort of “Just Say No” Ambassador for non-multiple partner s-x, and a “hate the sin, love the sinner” insistence on how league will survive and prosper despite the turmoil of the last week. There’s an emerging eagerness to move on, lessons learned, resolve to do better from here on etc etc in the same way every other scandal has been overcome.

Nine did its bit, too, countering Tracy Grimshaw’s aggressive probing of Johns (who’d have thought the year’s most incisive interview would be on ACA?) with “revelations” that the young woman in the New Zealand incident was bragging about it afterwards, similar to the irrelevant “scoop” from Danny Weidler that the father of the woman allegedly assaulted by Manly’s Brett Stewart had been convicted of fraud. Between Phil Gould’s tears and the speculation over which of Johns’s teammates were involved, the saga is a gift that keeps on giving to Nine. The media never lose.

Peter Fray

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