Should Christians teach young people about porn?

sex ed comic 2Like most adults in the UK my school sex education was rudimentary. By law, the science curriculum must cover puberty and reproduction and then in secondary school give information about HIV and sexually transmitted diseases. I was one of the lucky ones who had a dedicated sex and relationship education class with the brave Mrs Stickland who taught us 13 and 14 year-olds about sex, contraception and consent. Outside of the national curriculum, schools can offer as much or as little as they want but most choose not to and, scarily, 26% of secondary school pupils report getting no sex and relationship education (SRE) at all. Which leaves young people desperate to know more but unable to access reliable sources. A staggering 80% of young people get their sex education from elsewhere…their friends, TV and increasingly pornography.

So what is anyone doing about it? Well an old friend of mine, Sarah, and her husband Matt run a programme in schools in Bury St Edmunds called The Love Life Project. They have been running these workshops for years and I have been promising to come for just as long, so this summer I went back to school…

In terms of my faith, I fall somewhere near agnostic, though has never stopped Sarah and I being friends. I respect people with faith but as a feminist I have found some aspects of religion problematic for women’s rights. The role of the Catholic church in the HIV/AIDs epidemic in Africa, the picketing of abortion clinics by Christian groups and the emphasis by the religious on abstinence though its efficacy is widely questioned has left me wondering what role, if any, religion should have in sex education. So it’s fair to say I approached these two days with a little trepidation.

But my fears were totally unfounded. Sarah and Matt have designed the programme to have minimal faith content. They actively don’t proselytise and apart from discussing the non-religious benefits of abstinence there was no even vaguely Christian content. What their course does have is some great activities that got the young people talking and thinking about sex and relationships. What’s more, as a husband and wife team they come prepared to be totally honest about their love lives, giving examples to the young people of where they made mistakes and what they would do differently.

They warmed up with a discussion of the non-religious reasons for abstinence which got the young people thinking about all sorts of issues. They covered STI transmissions, consent (using this really cool description) and a frank discussion about porn. The truth is, no one is talking to young people about porn. Schools, for fear of seeming to endorse it, tend to ignore the subject totally. But when The LoveLife Project surveyed 13-14 years olds across the Bury St Edmunds they found that 90% of boys cited porn as the most influential factor in their sex education.

Personally I think there is nothing inherently bad about images of people being sexual and pornography can even be empowering and feminist. But mainstream porn only shows one type sex where female submission is the norm and where violence and aggression towards women preponderate. The younger someone is, the more susceptible they are to what they see on the internet which can lead young men to a warped view of sexual relations.

Faheem Aks CC

Faheem Aks CC

We know that porn is changing the attitudes of children including the development of antagonistic and unhealthy views towards women. Pornography has also been linked to sexually coercive behaviour among young people, and, for young women, viewing pornography is linked with higher rates of sexual harassment and forced sex.

The proliferation of smart phones and tablets mean that porn is just a few clicks away and even if young people don’t search for it directly, ‘exposure’ to porn by peers is a lot more common than ‘accessing’ it directly. So Matt and Sarah decided to tackle this head on their class discussing the difference between real sex and porn sex and making it clear that violence and coercion should not be the basis of sex.

The second activity asked the pupils to consider how relationships to progress from ‘holding hands’ to ‘having babies’ what order should these things come in? Sarah and Matt already know that most of the groups will fail to put ‘getting and using contraception and STI protection’ before oral sex and sexual touching (because, you know, sexual touching isn’t really sex…right?) which gave Sarah and Matt another opportunity to bang the ‘safer sex’ drum.

It was amazing how jaded some of the 13 year olds were already, believing the sex was inevitable and would come early in the relationship. Some girls even argued that sexual activity was a way to find out if you can trust someone or not. So why did the girls think that these boys were so sex obsessed? “It’s because we look at porn” said one and another said “probably because of the way we look at them and talk at them”. And how he right he was, now if only there was another week of The LoveLife Project to get into challenging this behaviour.

Continue reading

Feminism and porn, what’s missing from the debate?

Journalist Tanya Gold addressed the thorny issue of porn and feminism in Stylist magazine last month, observing that “consensual sex, consensually on camera, for the pleasure of consensual viewers, should be in the same box as all other consensual sex acts”.

In mainstream porn, however, Gold ventures “violent misogyny is everywhere”. Her answer? Feminist porn.

I’ll get back to feminist porn later because what interested me most was not what she wrote as much as the readers’ comments.

Far from the troll-style hate comments you’d expect following an article by a woman (a feminist at that), her respondents identified some of the grey areas in porn that feminist debate may have overlooked.

Take amateur porn, for instance. Damien asked: “Are you completely over-looking that the most popular and fastest-growing style of porn is homemade? It’s two people expressing their own sexual desire however they see fit.”

Damien’s point is a good one – amateur porn is largely absent from discussions about porn and feminism. This homemade genre appears to offer what mainstream porn lacks: diversity, affection, respect and the odd female orgasm.

Real couples enjoying themselves is a rare thing in mainstream porn but amateur is choc full of it. Equally, though, many of these novice “productions” are inspired by Hollywood and are predominantly from the male point of view.

Continue reading