Schools 'should teach how to view porn', sex forum says
Teachers need to know that pornography is not necessarily 'all bad' and can sometimes be 'helpful', a group of sex education experts has suggested.
A new publication advocates pupils being taught how to view pornography in school sex education lessons.
The Sex Education Forum wants pornography taught in terms of "media literacy and representation, gender, sexual behaviour and body image".
Campaigner Lucy Holmes, of No More Page Three, welcomed the idea.
"The more open and honest dialogue we have with young people about sex and porn, the better," said Ms Holmes.
In an online magazine aimed at teachers, the group suggests that pupils as young as five should learn how airbrushing in the media can create unrealistic body expectations, and that sex education lessons for 11-year-olds should include discussion of the dangers of "sexting" - sharing sexual messages and pictures by text.
Pupils aged 14 and over should learn that pornography is acting and not real, that "the sex and bodies are mostly unrealistic", says the magazine.
Teacher Boo Spurgeon, of Forge Valley Community School in Sheffield, told the Sex Educational Supplement: "We know from the facts and figures the average age of starting to watch pornography is about 11.
"So we need to start mentioning it then in a very normal way, so it's not shock horror."
She added that at Forge Valley teachers refer to pornography when talking about the impact of the media on pupils' perception of their own bodies.
"When we do something about self-esteem we will mention again the impact of the way pornography makes people feel about themselves.
"It's about dropping it in here, dropping it in there, making sure that the students know that we are happy to talk about everything to do with relationships and sex, including the impact of pornography.
"We can't get away from it because it's everywhere in society. It's not just what they find in the internet. It's in the newspapers; Page Three, for example."
Ms Spurgeon's students helped compile a list of what they felt students should learn about pornography. They said that some films could be "helpful" but cautioned that they were not a model for good sex.
In particular, they warned that not everything shown was safe, that porn could be addictive and that some actors were forced into making the films. They added that coercing others into performing or videoing sex acts was unacceptable.
Lucy Emmerson, co-ordinator of the Sex Education Forum, said the idea of the magazine was to help teachers "offer factually correct information and an opportunity for safe discussion that matches the maturity of the child.
"Teachers have told us they are nervous about mentioning pornography in sex and relationship education, yet given the ease with which children are able to access explicit sexual content on the internet, it is vital that teachers can respond to this reality appropriately.
"In addition, teaching children and young people to be critical consumers of media and able to discuss issues about the body, gender and sexual behaviour will equip them with 'filters in their head' to be more in control of the media available to them."
Norman Wells, of the Family Education Trust, said many parents would be horrified at the prospect of their children being taught about pornography within such a framework: "The intention appears to be to steer children and young people away from a belief in moral absolutes and to encourage them to think that there are no rights and wrongs when it comes to sexual expression.
"To take a no-holds-barred approach to sex education has the potential to break down pupils' natural sense of reserve and to encourage casual attitudes towards sex. If we want children to view sexual intimacy as something valuable, special and worthy of respect, it needs to be addressed with modesty and restraint.
"To give lessons on pornography is to play with fire," said Mr Wells.