Dear Concerned Parents,
What does the question “Should schools teach about porn?” conjure up to you? What if I missed the “about”? Should schools teach porn? Are you now worrying sex education is going a bit Monty Python but with pneumatic breasts, no pubic hair and enormous penises!?
(N.B. Despite the misleading headlines watching porn with students is absolutely not an option- it would be entirely inappropriate and possibly illegal)
The media has taken the first edition of the Sex Educational Supplement (the new SEF magazine) and gone with some rather interesting headlines including
“School pupils should be taught ‘not all porn is bad’, advise experts” (Telegraph)
Schools ‘should teach how to view porn’, sex forum says (BBC News)
Teachers should give lessons in pornography and tell pupils ‘it’s not all bad’, experts say (Daily Mail)
As a parent are you suddenly very alarmed by these headlines? Just what exactly do teachers want to cover with my precious innocent children? Is your gut reaction now NO WAY THAT IS NOT ON! SCHOOLS SHOULD ABSOLUTELY NOT TEACH ABOUT PORN.
My gut reaction to those headlines was to wince and sigh, because I’m a parent as well as a sex educator. I know that efforts to discuss porn with young people are aimed to provide a safe environment to discuss that porn isn’t necessarily a realistic depiction of sex,and that recognizes that young people can be exposed to very sexualised material from a young age and aims to help give them the tools to cope with growing up in a world where porn is only ever a few clicks away. We can try and shield them from it as much as we like but ultimately past a certain age that is going to be a futile endeavor and I want my children to recognize, expect and achieve consenual healthy relationships including sexual ones. I want them to be able to be critical of media messages about beauty, sex and sexuality, gender roles, and most of all I want them to be safe.
That is exactly what teaching about porn aims to do.
So in answer to the question Should Schools teach about porn?- ABSOLUTELY!*.
It’s a shame the media prefer sensationalist misleading headlines (whilst at the same time reinforcing the exact issues Sex Education is working to confront) rather than actually reporting how these lessons can help young people to grow up healthily and safely.
So please when confronted with headlines like these- take a little time and do some digging to what is really going on. After all, doing just that is Media Literacy 101 and exactly the type of things I want to be teaching my kids and yours. Here is another view and here is the exact resource blown out of all proportion.
*P.S There is a caveat to that- my expectation is that teachers delivering this material should be well trained and supported by their school community and appropriate educational materials. This topic is too important and too sensitive to get wrong. Not least if you don’t want your school to end up in the Daily Mail!
P.P.S A large part of this debate seems to stem around covering issues that are too sensitive and controversial and therefore should only be covered by parents. Which is all well and good in an ideal world where all parents feel equipped to have these conversations with their children, but in the real world where children and young people miss out on discussions around sex and relationships due to parental fears, embarrassment or lack of knowledge, then schools can have an important role to play.
As a parent I want my children to have a safe space in school to discuss some of these issues with someone other than me. I’d hope they’d talk to me but I also recognise and respect they may not want too. After all there is nothing more embarrassing than talking to your parents about anything to do with sex!
P.P.S *Update* Sex Education Forum have emailed a response to the media responses their network- pasted below for reference. Wholeheartedly agree with all of it:
1. Teachers have a duty to teach a broad and balanced curriculum and their personal views, for example about pornography should not come into it.
2. Good SRE promotes core values of respect, non-violence and care for each other and this extends to any discussion about pornography.
3. The reality is many young people have seen pornography as it’s very accessible but many have never had a safe, appropriate discussion about it facilitated by an adult.
4. Good teaching will encourage pupils to reflect on their values and attitudes and will allow them to be ‘critical consumers” of media with ‘filters in their heads’.
5. Teachers should make it absolutely clear what is illegal and that young people understand what consent is.
6. Teachers should be trained to teach SRE.
7. Pornography is not to be taught in isolation and the magazine shows that the scaffolding is core SRE themes: our bodies, relationships, gender, power, consent etc.