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Teachers Need To Talk About Porn

If we don’t discuss pornography in schools, then young people will learn what they think they need to know elsewhere; is that really what we want?

  • Teachers Need To Talk About Porn

It can sometimes seem that sex, rather than love, is all around us.

Lust and betrayal plays out nightly on prime-time TV, music videos feature semi-nude women writhing with muscular men, and porn is streamed with ease anytime, anywhere to anyone. Meanwhile an obsession with finding ‘the one’ and a fairytale wedding is still perpetuated as the ultimate life goal, whilst education focuses on safe sex and reducing teenage pregnancy rates.

Welcome to the conflicting world of teenage sex education.

By accepting that children and young people learn from absorbing all they see and hear around them, it’s not surprising that in 2016 the rules of romantic engagement are unclear. The big questions for me (and the starting point for my new book, We Need to Talk about Pornography) are:

1. Is there such a thing as overexposure to sexualised images?
2. Can watching pornography influence young people’s expectations about sex and real-life relationships?
3. Will comparisons with porn affect young people’s body image and perceptions of what’s ‘normal’?
4. And ultimately, does it matter?

Access issues

Many would argue that viewing adult content is harmless fun, and that people who raise concerns about the impact this might have on young people are part of the fun police. Let’s be clear: I don’t want to ban porn, I don’t object to it on moral or spiritual grounds and I am not trying to filter anything consenting adults are legally allowed to do. After all, pornography is nothing new; it has been around for centuries with the historical evidence to prove it.

So, why is it that I think professionals, as well as parents and the wider community, need to start talking openly about the impact of porn now? Well, quite simply – accessibility. Never before have there been so many ways of experiencing pornography, which arguably impact on personal things like the trend for removing body hair to wider social issues that have led to new campaigns to explain the meaning of sexual consent.

For the pre-internet generation watching a porn film, or getting hold of ‘men only’ magazines, was not all that easy. With no DVDs and strictly applied age restrictions, the ‘Carry On’ brand of humour was the nearest many ever got to seeing a ‘mucky film’.

Fast-forward to today and children grow up gazing at sexy underwear and furry handcuffs displayed in high street shop windows from their buggy.

Turn on the music channels and life-sized screens show simulated sex, often with women bowing before the power and sexual aggression of their men. Sing along and you can be unwittingly reinforcing stereotypes about girls meaning yes when they say no that educators and law enforcers have been challenging for over 50 years. Girl power? Certainly not. Sexual freedom? Maybe – but what messages are we actually giving our little boys and girls?

Porn often depicts sex in ways that are threatening, misogynistic, violent and without boundaries. Is that really what we want young people to grow up believing? It is not quite the romantic Hollywood version of love pushed by mainstream films.

Meanwhile SRE lessons in most UK schools continue to consciously leave out any mention of the ‘P’ word, despite clear evidence of the huge number of teenagers accessing pornography.

Further research is required to establish whether there is a connection between teaching young people about pornography and how often they use it.

Surely now is the right time for educators to step forward?

After all, if we want young people to grow up to have happy, healthy, positive relationships why are we leaving it to the pornographers to do so much of the teaching?

The numbers game:

10 good reasons to include porn in SRE
1. Over half of 11-13 year olds have seen pornographic material before starting secondary education and 94% have seen it by 14.
2. 74% of 11-18 year olds said that porn should be discussed in sex education.
3. Safety Net claims evidence that pornography has a detrimental impact, including premature sexualisation, negative body image and unhealthy notions about relationships.
4. Porn often depicts sex in ways that are threatening, misogynistic, violent and without boundaries.
5. From the age of seven girls feel the impact of daily sexist images in the media, online and around them.
6. On first viewing pornography, young people were most likely to report that they felt curious (41%), shocked (27%), confused (24%) or disgusted (23%).
7. More than a third of teens rely on getting advice about sex from pornography.
8. The majority say they believe that the porn they watch is more educational than the SRE they receive in school.
9. 53% of boys and 39% of girls see porn as a realistic depiction of sex
10. 42% of 15-16 year olds said that pornography has given them ideas of sexual practices that they would like to emulate.

About the author
Vanessa Rogers is a qualified teacher and youth worker. She has written a number of popular resource books for those working with young people, including We Need to Talk About Pornography. Find out more at www.vanessarogers.co.uk.

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