“Whatever we were supposed to have lost in the sixties it was more than our virginity. Bettina Arndt, once editor of Forum magazine and a leading sex therapist, now advocates traditional family life and is concerned at lesbians as high school teachers. Obviously, three decades from the so-called sexual revolution, something has changed that’s hard to fathom.

Sex magazine sales are plummeting. Last week Australian Women’s Forum magazine announced it was folding. Next issue the last. Editor Helen Vnuk says the magazine’s monthly censoring by the Office of the Film and Literature Classification harmed its quality. Readers’ stories were cut. Too explicit. Sex with 17 year olds was out. “The age of consent is 16,” says Vnuk, somewhat puzzled.

I showed a copy of the most recent issue of Australian Women’s Forum to a twentysomething with a tongue-ring and she commented, “It’s boring, tacky. Sex isn’t taboo anymore.” Sex as titillation has lost its sexiness apparently.

Wowser” is distinctly Australian. It was first used by John Norton when publicly denigrating Alderman Waterhouse as a “woolly, weary, watery, word-wasting wowser from Waverley”. It was a clever larrikin put down of a conventional public figure by a man who edited a scandal sheet called “The Truth”.

In a land of home owners, suburban villas, well laid out rural towns and hard worked farms, to be a wowser came to mean something akin to being unAustralian. But we all know real larrikins are the outsiders Down Under as much as anywhere else.

So are we a lot of wowsers? Not at all. Australians have never been more outrageous, or so much the opposite of wowsers. Big Brother is topping the TV ratings, cyber porn is booming, gambling now supports the local economy and sustains thousands of jobs in an age of precarious employment figures. We’ve made huge advances against homophobia, children are born in and out of wedlock regardless, sons and daughters shack up as they please.

In 2001, there’s nothing of the wowser about life Down Under. What has happened is far more complicated. Bettina Arndt and a legion of more conservative baby boomers, along with a much younger generation, are all concerned at social dysfunction. Sex magazines promoting freedom of the body now compete with growing statistics on paedophilia, rape and violent sexual assault.

Like never before, Australians are living with their pleasures, their pain and their responsibilities simultaneously. It’s what aging Cambridge don and child-of-the-sixties hippie Bob Rowthorn calls growing up. Once sleeping around and porn politics was a challenge to authority, now it’s the norm. The challenge today is to sustain a relationship.

And for those still needing pornography, even Down Under, it’s only a click away in cyberspace. The age of the wowser, I think, is dead.”

Article published in The Sunday Age