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Pornography, young people & sexuality: it’s time we talked.

Many parents showed up on zoom with us last Tuesday evening, for the latest in our Parent Education series of talks, to listen to Maree Crabbe, Director of the Australian violence prevention project. It’s time we talked.

Your role as parents in this space is vital to fostering respectful, safe & mutually consenting relationships. Thank you for showing up to inform yourselves about how & why this is so important to those who attended. For those who missed it, here is a recap of some of the sobering wisdom Maree shared, based upon research and evidence, and some practical tips to inform and guide our next steps.

Pornography is now the most prominent sexuality educator for many young people. The data around the consumption of porn is alarming, particularly for boys and young men. Most young people growing up online discover porn well before encountering sex, as it is almost impossible to avoid.

THE MAINSTREAMING OF PORNOGRAPHY

*Our Watch 2020, pornography, young people and preventing violence against women, Our Watch, Melbourne. **Office of Film and Literature Classification 2019, Breaking Down Porn: A Classification Office analysis of commonly viewed Pornography in NZ, Office of Film and Literature Classification, Wellington.

WHAT’S THE ISSUE?

If your child has access to a mobile phone, laptop, tablet, or any other internet-enabled device – or if they have friends or siblings that do – then it is likely they will see pornography, even if they never seek it out. They may make their pornography – because they’d like to or because they are pressured to do so by partners or peers. For many young people, it’s harder to avoid pornography than to see it.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT PORN & YOUNG PEOPLE

  • Porn is everywhere – With the click of a button, it is possible to access a vast catalogue of free pornographic images and websites via the internet. Some young people actively search for porn. Others are exposed to it inadvertently through uninvited “pop-ups”, a word search for something unrelated or an image sent from a friend. Some young people are creating porn themselves, using mobile phones and webcams to produce explicit imagery for themselves and others. Pornography reaches crosses all social, economic, and cultural boundaries, and its mainstreaming is reinforced by its influence in popular culture; in film, music videos, television, advertising & fashion.
  • Porn is no longer a centrefold – Pornography has come a long way since the days of a centrefold in Playboy or Cleo. It is now about moving images on a screen. At the same time that pornography has become more mainstream, it has been accompanied by a change of nature in the material. It is not just about people having sex but about communicating a whole range of complex messages about men, women, sex and power.
  • Porn has become a default sexuality educator - Many young people say they know that porn is make-believe, even if the sex is real. Nevertheless, they often describe how their sexual experiences are shaped by what they – or their partners or peers – observe in porn. As the default sex educator for many young people, pornography teaches some tough lessons about bodies, consent, pleasure, sexual health, gender, power, aggression and performance.
  • Young people need help to navigate this reality – the prevalence & influence of pornography in the mainstream leads to the misguided impression that what it depicts is “normal”. Young people need help from the trusted adults in their life, who care about them to understand that porn is not reality. They need help to understand that:
    • Porn bodies are not normal
    • Porn can shape sexual tastes – and expectations
    • Porn sex is NOT safe sex
    • Porn is a performance made by actors
    • Free and full consent is essential
    • Violence & humiliation are not sexy
    • Sex can be so much better than what you see in porn

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Pornography’s influence poses many challenges for young people, for the adults who live & work with them and for society in general. How can you support your child to navigate this reality and to develop relationships & sexuality that are mutually healthy, safe and respectful?

  • Limit their access and exposure by managing access to technology, keeping devices out of bedrooms and other private spaces and establishing time limits on use.
  • Equip them with skills that encourage critical thinking about what they see. They need to understand that media often is created to promote something as desirable and necessary and, at the same time, communicates a whole range of other messages – about, for example, power, gender, age, class and culture. You can help your child develop these critical media literacy skills by discussing the underlying messages about power and relationships communicated in advertising, films and television. There is no need to show young people porn.
  • Support them with skills to resist peer pressure to consume porn or if an intimate partner initiates unwanted porn like sex
  • Inspire them to see that sex and relationships can be better than what porn portrays

Finally, if we accept the extensive volume of data that pornography is being accessed by our children, the research of experts shows that it’s causing harm. As parents, carers and educators, we have a shared responsibility to assist the young people in our care, to navigate pornography in ways that minimizes associated harms and promotes and inspires healthy, safe and mutually respectful relationships.

At Woodleigh, we are currently reviewing the way we teach Respectful Relationships in the health & wellbeing curriculum to ensure that it is meeting the needs of our young people in a contemporary context because, as Maree Crabbe asserts,

“It’s time we talked…..because young people deserve better than to learn about sex from porn.”

To finish, please watch KEEP IT REAL ONLINE (NZ) below

DONNA NAIRN
Director of Counselling

Acknowledgments & further resources: