The Sex Education Debate: Pornography

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May 30, 2013 by John Buckley

We need to arm young people with information, in an age appropriate way, about the world they are in, not the world that we would like them to be in.

The Internet is a part of growing up for young people; it’s part of their education, socialisation, relationship building and part of just being. Being online, for some, means encountering pornography, either by actively seeking it out or by exposure accidentally. While we can police, to a certain extent, content like child exploitation material (to report visit www.hotline.ie), other types of legal content, that may cause offence, and potential harm to young viewers, can’t be policed.

Sex education isn’t just about pregnancy and STIs

So what do we have to do? We need to focus on behaviours, resilience and arming young people with the facts about sex and pornography so that they can understand and deal with what they encounter. And by doing this, hopefully reduce harm.

Some may say that talking about pornography will only encourage young people to access it! NEWSFLASH, young people know about porn and they are accessing it. The reflex for a young person who wants to know about something is to Google it. So when a young person wants to know about sex, they’ll type it into a search engine. Sometimes they may get a result from www.spunout.ie and other sources that are reliable, other times they may just get pornography, that is filled with sex myths, not realities.

So we have a choice; don’t talk about it or else support young people to cope with their sexual development by taking a holistic approach, namely not leaving things out because we may be uncomfortable. We need to bust myths that are presented in porn. Myths that can lead to STI transmission (you rarely see a condom in pornography), body image issues (everything is big, with hints of skinny), performance expectations (it lasts for hours), relationship difficulties (there’s no emotional impact) and not treating partners with respect (you can do whatever you want to a woman, sure they won’t mind).

Research has shown us that young people are accessing pornography and some are starting to see it as educational (you can read more from the UNICEF Ireland report here). With that comes a responsibility from educators, yes that’s us, parents, peers, youth workers, teachers and everyone else too.

At the heart of this, for me, is ensuring that all young people get access to go quality sex education. Education that is not just based on how or how not to get someone pregnant and sex, for most people today, is not about having babies. Curricular reform is needed in the SPHE (Social Personal and Health Education) course for a number of reasons. One, its foundation was developed in the mid 90s. Two, it doesn’t reflect the reality of what sex is about today for young people (LGBT sex, other sexual acts outside of penetrative sex etc.). And three, not all schools are running it; some are being selective, not prioritising or don’t feel comfortable delivering.

We must provide the information that is needed by young people, obviously with respect to moral viewpoints, but more so reflecting a reality. There are a number of ways that sex, pornography and sexuality are experience and we need to work on providing that info, so that young people can make informed, respectful (to themselves and partners) and resilient decisions.

Porn is illustration fiction and fantasy, but if we don’t counter myths portrayed, that fiction could soon become a reality and potentially cause serious harm.

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