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Is it time to teach children about porn? What do you think?

(81 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 28-Nov-12 10:25:21

How should children be educated about porn? Is this a subject that should be taught in schools, by parents - or not at all?

Education minister Liz Truss has announced that schools were free to teach children about pornography as part of 'age appropriate' non-obligatory PSHE studies. Her intervention comes shortly after a recommendation by the National Association of Headteachers that students should be told about pornography from the age of 10, to help them protect themselves from stumbling across adult images.

Elsewhere, Childline have reported a spike in calls from children who've been traumatised by doing so, and a study last month revealed that increasing numbers of children are being exposed to porn before they become sexually active, giving them a distorted idea of what sex actually is.

What do you think? Is it time to forewarn children about pornography before they come across it? And if so, is the classroom the best place to do it? Tell us what you think - and of you blog on this, do let us know your URL: we'll be sure to tweet it.

MamaMary Wed 28-Nov-12 15:02:31

Exactly, gottasmile, stop it would be better than discussing it. But few seem brave enough to suggest this.

MamaMary Wed 28-Nov-12 15:02:46

I mean few in the public eye.

Writehand Wed 28-Nov-12 15:05:39

Talking about abusive -- exposure to porn itself is an abuse -- but it is almost a given now that your kids will see it. My son had a friend of whom I disapproved -- he was sneaky and quite hostile, which is odd in a child towards his friend's mum. At the time his mother was sleeping with different men every month or so, and this clearly affected him a lot. He really didn't like women, and made a point of showing my son some really vile porn. Lots of aggression, no body hair, anal sex, three men, one woman. My poor son was only 11.

He did this on our computer, which had Net Nanny software. He got past that effortlessly, as did my older son when trying to do something which wasn't porn or anything nasty, just downloading some cartoon that the Net Nanny was set up to stop. I tried another safety software package and the children went straight past that too. Unless you are a real computer whizz and create your own barrier it's almost impossible to stop your kids getting at whatever they want on a pc. None of the packages work.

Luckily, only a week or two later, we were together late one night in just the sort of quiet relaxed situation in which children feel safe to confide. My poor son told me what he'd seen -- he was embarrassed but he managed to give me the general outline. Then we had a long talk about sex. I stressed how normal it was, and how it was a happy, affectionate affair, something loving that all couples did. I explained that anyone who tried to start their real life sex life using porn as a template would meet with disaster. He was very relieved to hear that.

I started talking about all the nice mums and dads we know, and how they all have sex. I told him that real sex was far more gentle and friendly. I can remember everything I said, but we ended up laughing at the absurd idea that the happy couple we knew were acting out the harsh, hairless aggression that the porn portrayed. I even brought up anal sex. I told him it was true that some people did it, but I stressed that -- unlike in porn -- it wasn't an expected element. Remember, the poor child was only 11, but he'd seen such nasty, unkind stuff.

It was one of the key conversations we'd had over the years. I know it really helped because he told me so years later.

He's 17 and a half now, and has a lovely girlfriend whom he treats just as I would hope. They are always laughing. They've been together all year and are now sexually active. He takes every precaution (he told me so) and I imagine that whatever they do, they do with love and affection.

I think we all have to take the bull by the horns. If you've got Internet access, your kids will have seen porn. And most of it is nasty. Watch out for social network sites and music downloads. My older son downloaded a hip hop track which came attached to a short, totally disgusting, porn clip. He was so horrified he came and got me, and we deleted it. There must be weirdos out there attaching sadistic porn to tracks that are most in demand from kids. Very unpleasant.

I am not against erotic material. There are things that could be labelled "porn" that are lovely, arousing and life-enhancing. Sexuality is an important and beautiful thing. But we have to tell our children that the ugly stuff does not represent what real people who want to make love are likely to do.

I'd suggest you wait until you're in an easy, relaxed situation with one child at a time and ask your child directly what they've seen, and how it affected them. I will never forget how relieved my son was to learn that sex in real life wasn't anything like porn. Poor child had thought that he'd have to do all this once he grew up, and didn't fancy the idea at all! :-)

Recently I had a conversation with both my sons, separately, and brought up this body hair business. The bald porn look is now so widespread that boys expect girls to remove most or all of their pubic hair. I pointed out the porn link, and said it was a fashion and one of which, as a liberal old punk, I strongly disapproved. I asked them to reject the necessity for high maintenance pubic topiary, and told them that, in my view, it was oppressive to women -- telling girls that their natural appearance in that area was unacceptable. The boys took my rant quite well. They are used to me sounding off about political and ethical issues :-)

Glup Wed 28-Nov-12 15:15:05

I write many of the PHSE lessons for my large comprehensive school (today is a day off). For one reason or another, this has recently been a big issue in our school. I can say several things with confidence, although our findings may be relevant only to our school:

1. Nope. Nowhere near every child has seen porn. Pornographic pop-ups have actually reduced significantly in the past couple of years, so now children actually have to search for it. The media have massively exaggerated some aspects
2. Those who have seen porn, however, have seen some really crazy things and have seen a lot more of it than you'd ever want them to!
3. Those who have seen it have definitely got some bizarre expectations and ideas.
4. There was a definite gender divide. Most of our girls had seen nothing, whereas most of our boys had seen a lot.

This is going to be an absolute nightmare in the future. Yes, I think this should be taught in schools, but only because of poor parenting...but how to logistically do it? If I was asked to teach a lesson on this, I would have wanted to teach a module of about 6 lessons on sex ed first in order to contexualise it. This would limit curriculum time for anything else.

I would also be very unsure how to teach a sensible lesson without actually showing them porn!

The majority of my staff would be deeply uncomfortable about teaching this, and therefore would be unlikely to do a great job.

Parents- it is definitely something you should do first.

wishingchair Wed 28-Nov-12 15:26:22

I totally agree that parents should tackle. I do have very frank conversations with my DDs (eldest is nearly 10) ... had to explain about oral sex the other day because she told me that a friend had told her the lyrics "you can blow my whistle baby" didn't actually refer to blowing a whistle. So the normalisation of explicit material is everywhere.

That said, the advantage a school has is talking to them all in a group setting. So everyone hears that anal sex is not the norm, that pubic hair is totally normal, that porn is not realistic, that actual sex is mutual, loving, kind and fun for all involved.

And I think you could totally talk about porn without showing it!! As a parent, I will talk to my DDs about porn (as you rightly say we should Gulp) ... but I'm not going to show it to them first!!!!!

wishingchair Wed 28-Nov-12 15:27:14

Glup sorry blush

BelaLugosisShed Wed 28-Nov-12 16:11:20

It's a shame that not all boys have mums like you Writehand.
Porn ( the majority of internet porn anyway) has put sexuality back 50 years, back to the assumption that sex is something women have done to them by (often violent) men and that women should be passive receptacles, not enthusiastic and willing participants of a mutually enjoyable experience.
Glup , I'm surprised that the sex education show isn't used in PHSE lessons, I thought it was well done and challenged some harmful myths caused by porn.
I know my SIL sat and watched it with her 14 year old DS last year.

MamaMary Wed 28-Nov-12 16:13:07

Porn has put feminism back decades.

Agree with your statement BleaLugosi. Porn has been very damaging towards sex being something enjoyed by all involved parties. I shudder to think what it must be like for children or teens being exposed to porn as their first sighting of a sexual encounter. I absolutely think porn should be discussed in schools, but IMO it should come up anyway if we're discussing mutually caring caring relationships vs abusive ones.

With regards to anything to do with children/teens and sex, it shouldn't be an either/or situation, but rather something covered both by parents and at school.

OddBoots Wed 28-Nov-12 16:40:42

I'm not sure how yet but I do want to have a good chat with my children about porn and its wider implications.

I was horrified to read this morning that "a report in the British Medical Journal reveals that 343 labiaplasties were performed on girls aged 14 or younger over the last six years." link

Oblomov Wed 28-Nov-12 17:04:35

I knew many years ago that teenagers, even then, considered no pubic hair and hard, noisy unloving sex, to be the norm, based on porn that they had seen. I was saddened by that idea then and it seems to have got alot worse now.
Seems such a shame. And will be so very very hard to change.

morethanpotatoprints Wed 28-Nov-12 17:13:00

The problem isn't the porn sites per se, because no matter what controls you have in place your ds like mine may one day need to do a project on badgers. See what comes up when you google this then?

One of the answers has to be not following the crowd like sheep and steering away from consoles, mobiles and other gadgets or at least not allowing internet access when you are not there to monitor it.

I did this with my older 2 dc and will do with dd, they were supervised during homework although it doesn't mean others won't show them at school.

SolidGoldYESBROKEMYSPACEBAR Wed 28-Nov-12 17:20:10

Two things to consider: one is that it's unhelpful to portray sex, and sexually-themed entertainment or any and every kind, as something negative and vile to be feared. Most people who get their undies in a bundle about 'porn' have rather hazy or scarmongering ideas of what they mean by the word: it can cover unpleasant things but also entertaining and useful ones.
Secondly, this obsession with sex as 'only part of a 'loving relationship' is unhelpful and harmful. Just because someone professes to love you doesn't mean that s/he is trustworthy or safe: a lot of abusers insist that their abuse is both motivated and justified by 'love'.

I don't think anyone has said anything about sex as only as part of a loving relationship. I imagine, if you were teaching it, respect would have a role but no need for love.

As for the other point, I don't think that's true- I think you'll have to search really hard to find porn that is not misogynistic and nasty to women. I would have no problem if my kids caught sight of 'make love not porn' or something like that - but it isn't at the moment, it's an industry driven by a nasty kind of men and getting more and more extreme.

MissWooWoo Wed 28-Nov-12 18:24:12

how do you explain to children who are possibly as young as 10 - in regards to hard core/violent porn - that (a) there are some people who want to do this to other people despite the fact that it hurts them and that (b) there are some people watch this stuff and take pleasure in it? sad

12ylnon Wed 28-Nov-12 18:30:12

Surely teaching about all kinds of sex is really important? I think it's crucial in order to teach young people about what kind of sex is 'good' and what kind is 'bad'. That way, if a child is shown something by friends, or come across something on the net that they don't like, where abuse is clearly taking place (like rape or child pornography) they have the confidence and the knowledge to speak up and say 'I'm not comfortable watching this'. I don't think all pornography is abusive or unhealthy. There is a very popular website called x art that is run by a husband and wife team and it's very obvious that all parties are consenting adults who seem to enjoy their jobs very much.

I personally think 10 is a little young for schools to be tackling the subject of porn, as well as other, more complex issues (such as casual sex, toys etc) to do with sexuality. Perhaps closer to 14 is more appropriate, as i think regular 'vanilla' sex between a couple (gay and straight) should be fully understood and discussed first.

The problem clearly comes when children get their hands on laptops, tablets and phones. Parental controls are SO easy to get around. Young teens are much more tech-savvy than we think. My son won't be getting an internet phone until he's well into his teens. No TV in his room either and laptop is to be used only in the living room when we're around. But really thats all we can do, he's going to come across it at some stage, the best we can do as parents and teachers is prepare them and teach them what is acceptable in terms of sexuality.

12ylnon Wed 28-Nov-12 18:32:54

This I don't understand, are you saying that children should be taught that sex is only acceptable within loving, committed relationship?

foxy6 Wed 28-Nov-12 19:27:39

i dont know about the teachers teaching them about internet porn. mine learnt from their friends about it.

12, sorry if that's not clear, I meant I agreed with solid on the point that sex doesn't have to be about commitment or love but I was also trying to say that's not what the debate is about anyway.

12ylnon Wed 28-Nov-12 19:54:52

I agree, although i don't think it's a totally irrelevant point as porn is difficult to understand if you're stuck on the concept that sex is only acceptable between two heterosexual people who are in love.

Mm, I see what you mean, but I don't think many people think that, only (whispers) religous people.

It irks me that if you question the pornification of society nowadays, then some people think you are some kind of buttoned up Anti-shag monster.

JingleBel Wed 28-Nov-12 20:27:35

School are teaching students about esafety in y7 and are forewarning them about abusive behaviour online. This could include pornography without explicitly focussing on it.
These lessons include making sure they know how to report things they feel uncomfortable with using the ceop report button

JingleBel Wed 28-Nov-12 20:29:49

CEOP site has good advice for parents.

Glup Wed 28-Nov-12 21:05:42

So it's really interesting reading what everybody has to say. I've gone away and had a little think since my last post.....and I've come back even more depressed.

I honestly think that, from a logistical perspective, this would be extremely difficult to teach in any meaningful way within a school context. I reckon that the lessons you would need in advance would be:

1. What is sex?
2. What is contraception?
3. What are good relationships?
4. Safety in relationships and the importance of respecting yourself.

Most schools would have a lesson, or at least an assembly/ registration on e-safety about once a year. But I reckon what we're talking about here is 'how pornography is not normal'.

Thing is, in order to get that message across, I'd also have to teach them what is 'normal'. So you're getting into slightly dodgy territory there already.

Conclusion: I have no idea how to realistically plan this. Whilst I think I could plan and teach a lesson myself, I honestly cannot think of anything that would work if I was to plan it for the use of the rest of the staff in the school.

Blueschool Wed 28-Nov-12 21:07:51

I think it a good idea- though sad it has come to this.

At least children who dont have parents prepared to talk about porn will have some sort of adult guidance.

It might also open up a dialouge between children to express their thoughts, especially if they feel disturbed if they have already seen something.

Though 10 seems so, so young.

I plan to talk to my own dcs about porn at some point.

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