Tuesday, May 1, 2018

In the Media: Why We Disagree with Dr Christian on using Porn in the Classroom

Should we introduce Pornography in education? The Telegraph cited Dr Christian Jessen well known for his role in Embarrassing Bodies as saying this week “I think it’d be very helpful in sex education to show the distinction between porn and sex as you have it…”. A debate has arisen as it is believed- if our young people are viewing porn anyway, should it be a part of the curriculum?

Our Engagement and Marketing Manager Jo Austin was interviewed by BBC Radio Wales this morning to give her opinion on why we would advise against this strategy.  Here is what she said on facebook following the discussion.

But why was Jo voting ‘no’ on this initiative? Psychology graduate and The Women’s Organisation volunteer Lexine explored this further.

There are many issues raised with pornography over the years, widely accessed and mostly unrestricted, through smart phones or most internet linked devices. With increased access to porn, society has also witnessed an increase in psychological and physical issues: porn addictions, self-esteem issues, normalised sexualised behaviour, sexualised exploration starting younger, and incompetence issues. These are just a starting point, and while some argue that we can’t attribute all of these issues to porn, studies indicate that regular access to porn has educated young people to see porn as an example of normal sexual relationships.

Until March 2017 sex education was not compulsory, only within council-run schools. We have seen movement in recent year in terms of updating sex education for young people, but how effective can be porn be used as a tool to learn?

Those arguing for the benefits of using porn within sex ed tend to present the case for helping young people to visually understand of the act of sex, supporting those who visually learn. With guidance, could showing porn help teach what is wrong with sexual behaviours such as aggressive acts or sexual violence – they argue? However, we'd ask do children really need to be shown this visually through the use of pornography in order to start that discussion?

This argument assumes that every child in the classroom will have been exposed to pornography anyway, so why not use that as a starting point? But consider those who may not have yet.  We may be exposing children and adolescents to visual images that may be quite overwhelming and traumatising, particularly to individuals who are not emotionally prepared. Plus, could showing porn desensitise children to acts of violence or even worse possibly triggering individuals who have suffered sexual abuse themselves? 

Pornography does not typically offer a realistic representation of women and men’s bodies and using this as the measuring tool of education within schools could impact on normalising unrealistic body ideals potentially impacting on self-esteem.

Showing adolescents pornography is a greater risk to addiction as their brains are still developing shows a study by Riemersma & Sytsma, 2013, if not amplifying the risk of condoning young people to access porn from a young age by displaying in schools. One particular study showed that pornography consumption is significantly associated with stronger gender-stereotypical sexual beliefs, earlier sexual interaction, increased casual sex behaviour, and increased sexual aggression both as perpetrators and victims (Peter & Valkenburg, 2016). This normalising of sexually violent behaviour could send complete mixed message on what is and isn’t consent and continue the desensitisation or traumatic triggers in our young people. The average age of first perpetration of sexual violence is 15 -16 years old and can be associated with exposure to pornography (Prevention Science, 2017).

Jo told BBC Radio Wales that the week prior to interview she had spent time with trained counselors who noted their fastest growing client group was university students coping with sexual assault.  This, she felt, was indicative of the fact that lack of consent is portrayed as 'sexy' in the porn industry, and building a generation of young people who no longer understand what consent means. 

While we appreciate that the current sex education curriculum could use an update, the evidence is clear that exposing young people to pornography isn't a helpful step forward. Instead we would recommend considering involving young people in more frank discussion.  The discussion should look at sex and sexual relationships from health and legal perspectives, emotional intelligence, and delivered from a place of unbias and body empowerment with consent at the heart of it. Sex is an aspect of all individuals lives that children will eventually go on to explore themselves. However, we need to empower young people when the time comes to understand sex from a point of consent, emotional capabilities, boundaries, and physical health. These factors should be prioritised over showing pornography which is certainly not the best example of any of these. It is these conversations and dialogues that will give individuals freedom to speak out against violence, to know where their boundaries lay and feel confident to talk about their sexual health and image in a frank and respectful way. 

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