Why Pornography Should Be Introduced and Critiqued In Sex Education Programming At All School Levels

The phrase love that dare not speak it’s name was coined by Lord Alfred Douglas. It first appeared in his poem, “Two Loves,” printed (in the Chameleon) in 1896. It’s a reference to homosexual love, in Lord Alfred’s case, of Oscar Wilde, who was subsequently charged with gross indecency. Homosexuality was a criminal offense in England and just about everywhere else in the 19th century. Today, there is another sexual outlet not so much forbidden as not addressed in polite or other society – a new form of love the name of which sex educators dare not speak: pornography.

This is most unfortunate: a new study suggests that while parents may not be aware of the fact, pornography is the leading sex educator of the young. Alas, the porn industry has no interest in serving a sex education function and certainly does not do so, at least not in a positive, constructive or healthy fashion.

Porn is pervasive, particularly where it is most highly censored. China, for example, is the world’s leading consumer of porn. Jerry Ropelato, author of “Internet Pornography Statistics” at the research website Top Ten Reviews, notes that $3,075.64 is spent on pornography every second of every day. In this one-second period, 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography and 372 internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines. Two of the top twenty search terms are teen sex and teen porn. The pornography industry has larger revenues than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined. Data from 2006 reported worldwide pornography revenues at $97.06 billion.

Australian researchers David Corlett and Maree Crabbe filmed 140 interviews with young people in what was called “The Reality and Risk Research Project.” They discovered that teens are increasingly turning to the net for sex education. (Source: Denise Ryan, “Teachers urged to address porn factor,” The Australian Age, February 13, 2012.) Porn sex education exerts a destructive influence in the lives of the young. One of the investigators said, “Every young person we interviewed told us that pornography is a significant part of youth culture and particularly of young men’s lives.” She added, “Pornography has become harder, rougher, more hardcore.”

Porn, as you might expect, does not commonly offer instruction in matters relevant to conventional sex education (e.g., the nature of contraception, the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, the value of intimacy, principles of effective relationships). On the contrary, what it inadvertently communicates to young men, according to “The Project” research group, is reckless, coercive and abusive treatment of women. There is an absence of realistic perspectives and a dearth of respectful treatment of sexual partners. In addition, sexual practices of an unsafe nature are commonplace. While informed adults may have the maturity to manage such depictions, teens with little or, more often, no sexual experience clearly do not.

Since parents usually cannot keep porn from being accessed one way or another or one time or other by their children, the more likely best strategy is to include porn awareness in sex ed instruction. This is the focus of efforts by “The Project” team. Several grants have provided the resources to prepare and test programs for use in training sex education teachers for varied school grade levels. While teachers need skills to address this issue, teens need exposure to effective critiques of pornography’s representations of gender and sex. Among the objectives of the Project team is to develop teaching materials that present diverse scenarios for classroom discussions that will enable young adults to distinguish between what they see depicted in porn and reality.

The overwhelming majority of parents believe their child has never seen pornography. However, a 2003 Australia Institute investigation citied in the Australian Age article cited above reported that 84 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls had access to sex sites on the internet. A 2006 Australian study of youths aged 13 to 16 found that 92 per cent of boys and 61 per cent of girls had been exposed to pornography online.

Of course, Republicans in this country might favor a simpler solution: Pass new laws banning pornography or otherwise make it nearly impossible for young people to gain access to it. Given the widespread availability of social media of all kinds in the wired culture of our age, a reliance on censorship does not seem promising (not to dwell on the consistency of such a Draconian tactic with that troublesome First Amendment in America). Good luck cutting off porn – shy of creating a police state. Better sex education is cheaper and quicker, more likely and better suited to personal liberties and sound education.

Everyone, including the young, needs a broad set of knowledge and critical thinking skills to reject a sexuality that eroticises degradation and violence, glorifies unrealistic body types (particularly large breasts and out-sized penises) and undermines relationship elements founded on respect, courtesy and the common decencies.

It is hard enough in the current climate of Right Wing evangelical Republican culture war wedge politics to gain acceptance for sex ed of any kind, let alone adding porn assessment to the mix. If a school board or individual educator in this country tried to address pornography, he or she would be cited by Santorum, Romney or Gingrich as an example of what’s wrong with Obamacare. Try dealing with this crisis only if willing to deal with a firestorm of controversy from the Right.

Yet, all evidence and the lessons from Prohibition and the Comstock era suggest that ignoring or trying to repress the pervasiveness of pornography as it affects youthful sexual expectations and behavior is pernicious and irresponsible.

In my view, we need to make clear as part of sex ed that porn has nothing to do with love. We dare not NOT speak its name – and dare NOT ignore the reality of pornography’s dreadful influence on the sexual miseducation of the young. If this upsets Republicans, well, that’s just too bad. If they had enjoyed better sex education, they might be more sensible about such things – and probably less interested in porn, as well.