This podcast episode was part 6 of a 7-part series on eSafety and Online Sexual Content; others in the series explore topics such as curriculum, grooming, and the word inappropriate.
I have previously been interviewed on an episode of this podcast, talking all about the clitoris. You can listen to that episode here.
The latest episode focuses on pornography and features both myself and Dr Zahra Stardust (who spoke in the first half) unpacking this topic. If you have attended a parent session or training session of mine, you will know how passionate I am about the issue of children viewing online sexual content. Anne mentions that comprehensive relationships and sexuality education can be a protective factor for young people on or offline – we need to ensure they do not learn about relationships from online mainstream pornography.
When I talk about this issue with parents, I am concerned parents aren’t worried enough. It is only after I give parents statistics on how young children are first viewing pornography and the prevalence of watching pornography amongst young people that they realise the potential harm and that they need to take it more seriously. It is a challenging topic for parents to tackle and can be hard to address when you just don’t know how or when to start.
In this episode, I answered the question: What is the difference between a young person seeing porn and an adult seeing porn?
The problem is not just nakedness, sex and nudity, it’s the messaging of violence, lack of consent, power, fake bodies etc. Mainstream porn projects an idea of “sex” and bodies that is unrealistic and this influences how young people view and then go on to act in their romantic relationships later in life. The promotion of violent sexual acts toward women contributes to harmful gendered stereotypes and expectations of women in sexual encounters. Adults can have a better sense, compare to young people, of what is wrong with the messaging of porn and be able to critically analyse whether the behaviour depicted is consensual, respectful or part of the performance.
A young person is a novice. A young person, in the absence of good, age-appropriate sexuality education, may use pornography as their main ‘sex’ educator. This can shape their understanding of sexuality if they are viewing this before they have intimate or physical experiences with others.
Ideally, I want young people to know about positive respectful relationships instead of porn. Giving them this information is useful in that they can compare their knowledge of healthy relationships to porn that they will inevitably be exposed to.
There are two bubbles in which young people get their information: one filled with age-appropriate, positive, comprehensive, sexuality, consent and respectful relationships education they get at school (classroom) and from home; the other is filled with inaccurate information they are exposed to online, through social media, advertising, popular culture and through pornography. You want the first bubble, the positive, informed and evidence-based bubble to outweigh the online bubble that is filled with negative, unrealistic and at times, harmful messaging.
I think it’s important to tell kids about porn when they have access to the internet. If they have access to the internet, then they can come across sexual images unintentionally. We don’t need to use the word porn or be explicit in our language to begin having these conversations, but we can talk about harmful and fake images with children. The information and the way we communicate information about online safety is age-dependent. Sex is for adult minds and bodies, not for children so we can tailor what we say to best suit their level.
So to begin with primary kids, you can talk about images that give us our Early Warning Signs. Come and tell me if anything pops up on your screen. Never punish them or take their devices/games away from them when they report to you, as they may prevent them from telling you in the future. You can then mature the language you use as they get older, fake sexual images of people doing unrealistic sexual things. You can use the analogy of the fakeness they see in regular movies and use that to compare to the performance of porn.
One of the best ways to address pornography and its accessibility to young people is to provide them with comprehensive sexuality and relationships education so that pornography doesn’t become their default education. Whether it is at home or in the classroom, young people need to be given examples of healthy, respectful relationships and learn to develop critical thinking skills around what they see online.
It was a great opportunity to talk to Anne and discuss such an important topic. Pornography is a complex topic to tackle with young people. So it seems the adults can also have differing opinions about it as well. This does not mean we need to avoid talking about it, we need to find ways to address this topic. Finding the right resources and getting young people to recognise that there is harmful imagery online can mean the world of a difference to them being safe online and experiencing positive encounters and partnerships in their lifetime.
Other Talking The Talk blogs and podcasts on this topic: