Sex and Relationship Education and porn

Sex and Relationship Education and porn
28th February 2017

Pornography is a form of violence against women and girls

The Department for Education is expected to make an announcement that sex and relationships education will be made a compulsory part of the curriculum for schools in England. We welcome this step and the efforts of the campaign groups and politicians that have built and sustained the momentum to make it happen.

Just this week Plan International UK published the results from its survey of parents, which found that three-quarters want teachers to address the harmful impact of porn and the trend of “sexting”, and that over 80% think sexual consent and domestic abuse and violence should be covered in the curriculum.

There seems to be a groundswell of public, social and political awareness that the tools and resources available to many parents and educators have not kept up with the world we live in. Maria Miller MP, head of the Women and Equalities Committee, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that children need to “better understand the signs of an abusive relationship, issues such as consent, and the harm that is done by sexting and underage viewing of pornography”.

We at FiLiA endorse this message – children and young people do need us adults to be able to give them the information and skills to negotiate an ever-changing world as the digital revolution continues at a pace they can keep up with better than many of us.

But is that enough? Is it enough to admit that we live in a world where what used to be viewed as soft porn is now mainstream culture; where Fifty Shades of Grey, a film about intimate partner violence and stalking, is released on Valentine’s Day as a romantic date film, and where all of us are two clicks away from violent body-punishing pornography portrayed as normal heterosexual sex?

Is it fair for us to accept that world but tell young people not to engage in it?

Parents and politicians are worried that young people believe pornography is an accurate representation of sex. But children and young people know something we adults are still kidding ourselves about: the online world is not distinct from the offline world – our lives both on- and offline are real, and our actions online continue offline.

When men troll and target women with misogynistic violent threats, those are real things that men really do. And “real-life sex” is increasingly replicating pornographic sex, which is increasingly violent and humiliating and always looking to pass the next threshold of acceptability in order to suck people in and keep them coming back for more.

We seem to live under a veneer of equal opportunity and progression, but under that veneer this huge industry based on inequality of every kind has exploded, with the majority of material being heterosexual male-dominant/female-submissive – at best aggressive and degrading, at worst… well, imagine it and it’s been done, with every racist stereotype reinforced along the way.

And once the industry has you hooked and looking for the next kick, because choking and anal tears just don’t get you off any more, then we do end up back to safeguarding children and young people, because that is where this profiteering international and hard-to-regulate industry will take you.

Britain’s most senior child protection police officer doesn’t want to keep prosecuting all the men who access child pornography anymore, because there are just too many for our police and criminal justice system to cope with. Unless we address the booming industry head on, any efforts to minimise its impact are just papering the cracks while the damp rises.

Pornography is a form of violence against women and girls, and boys. It is addictive, and it is harmful to the people engaged in its production, to its users and to the kind of society we want for all of us. It is time to start teaching ourselves the lessons we so desperately want someone else to teach our children.

 

[FiLiA is inviting its volunteers to contribute comments on current news and issues affecting women and girls. This is the first contribution]