Talking to Young people about porn:

It is all well and good highlighting the issues and the importance of talking to young people about pornography – in fact, it is thought to be a prerequisite in the new 2019 guidance… but more importantly we need to answer the question: how to you tackle such a sensitive topic in the classroom?

The influence of Porn is a topic I am asked to cover often in schools. However, there are real problems if I walk into a classroom and say “we are going to be talking about porn today… So what do you know about porn?” Automatically the class will be split, between those that will clam up and not say a word, embarrassed that if they do everyone will know they are a perv… and the other half, desperate to look cool, exaggerate what they watch and what they have seen in an effort to impress.

Or worse, if I go in there and say – “right in porn when you watch someone having bum sex…” you could risk not only putting ideas and attitudes in to young people’s heads by assuming that the group all watch porn.

Instead, this is certainly a topic which benefits from being young person led…

My favourite way of starting a conversation with a class about pornography is actually to come at it from the side…

ExerciseAsk instead:

“Where do young people learn about sex and relationships from?” 

Again, this is one of those activities I often use to start as session, asking every student to offer an answer as way of introduction.

…. I guarantee, that they will mention the internet and pornography if it is relevant to them.

This not only gives you a chance to discuss with them the gaps that they think are in RSE in school, but also the reliability of other sources of information. It equally opens up a discussion about where we learn about relationships from – our family and TV… and what influence these may have on our attitudes if we come from a positive or negative home experience.

The truth is we have always pieced together information about sex and relationships from a variety of sources. Unfortunately, the most reliable sources often aren’t prepared to talk about the real issues young people want to address – such as parents and school – instead that gap is filled by other less savoury sources…. think Jay from the Inbetweeners…. there is a reason why Simon’s love life is so catastrophic… all his advice comes from Jay!

The benefit of doing things this way – it gives us a context and a backdrop to talk about pornography against. But most importantly, the conversation is being led by young people – they brought the topic up NOT you… therefore, you won’t be caught putting words or ideas in their mouth… and the topic is theres so it removes the perceived judgement from asking about it directly,  as you get to play devils advocate when they say: “well porn is unrealistic in’it”… and you reply, but then so are romantic comedies… real life simply doesn’t work that way… is it any worse…?

We can then follow that discussion with a number of different issues depending on the group – or sometimes I would combine the following exercises depending on time:

Flip-chart round about:

click hereclick here to see how to use these starting points and discussions

  • Are the words we use important when it comes to talking about sex? Is it ever just banter…?

  • If a girl dresses ‘like that’ and get’s drunk. it’s her own fault if someone get’s the wrong impression…

  • What are our main issues with Pornography? Are there any positives…?

 

The effect of media –  Sophie Dahl Opium advert….

Sophie dahl

I use this image a lot in class to start a debate about the perceived effects of the media…

The Sophie Dahl perfume ad, was at one time the most complained about billboard ad of all time. People complained that it was a ‘pornographic’ image and would corrupt children’s minds and sensibilities… It was eventually banned (a fantastic ploy by the advertisers… what better way to make people seek out your ad than by allowing it to be banned… it then appears online or in papers as a story for free – rather than as a paid for ad! genius!).

However, the ad has been used in a number of studies which have tried to gauge if explicit material will sexualise children early or cause any emotional damage. Obviously, it is both illegal and unethical to use real porn for this process – so ‘explicit ads’ are the closest researchers have got.

In the experiments the image was shown to groups of children of various ages and they were then asked what it was a picture of and how they felt about it…

5 year olds generally reported that it was a picture of a lady sleeping…

8 year olds would often ask is she dead… they would talk about the fact that she didn’t look particularly comfortable… they were intrigued more than anything – death is generally something that has popped up on their radar by this age and they have questions.

11 year olds – were usually the first to mention the fact that she is clearly naked. They would find it giggly and may be a bit embarrassing – like they shouldn’t look at it… which again makes sense… by this age puberty and personal boundaries will influence children’s notions of privacy and being naked.

Teens – now teenagers get it – obviously the older the teen the more they tended to notice. They would explain that it was a sexual image. The jewellery, the shoes, the make-up – her body position… They would talk about the ad – notice that it was for perfume (they would have been exposed to many of these ads before and know the visual cues around sex sells…) but they would also connect opium being a drug that gets you high – with orgasm…

So the general academic evidence would suggest that we only really take in and see what we understand. If it isn’t on our radar – then it has little direct effect. A bit like sexual lyrics in pop songs – small children will sing along without realising that what they might be singing is quite rude! (I tell you, you never start paying attention to song lyrics until your 8 year old daughter sings them to you from the back seat of the car!)

But does this suggest that they have no effect what so ever…? No, the odd image isn’t going to suddenly blow your mind – but if you are exposed to the continual drip feed – of those advertising used visual cues – they can start to shape our attitudes and expectations… just as language can.

Watch this:

and a harder hitting version:

Following on from Sophie Dahl I will often use topical issues from the media… I will split the class into a number of different smaller groups,  and give each a flash card with a recent news story or event on… I ask each group to think about the following questions:

  • What is the suggested issue?
  • What message does it give to young women?
  • What message does it give to young men?
  • But ultimately, does it matter…?

Click here for of media story flash cards: Media flashcards

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