How should schools address the issue of pornography with teenagers in RSE sessions?

A response to a question we received by email:

I’m enquiring about how schools should address the issue of pornography with teenagers in RSE sessions. I have a child in secondary school and I don’t know how the school is approaching this. My child said that the subject of pornography has not been brought up in any way. I can’t be sure this is the case. However I’d be grateful for some advice.

The teaching of pornography is included as part of the RSE curriculum in England and Scotland; in Wales the new RSE Code requires that schools cover ‘sexual material and intimacy’. This means that all secondary schools have a responsibility to address the topic of porn through the curriculum.

It is illegal for any child or young person under the 18 to view or share pornography or to create or share sexual images or videos. Forcing or encouraging a child or young person to view pornography or sexual images of children is a form of non-contact child sexual exploitation and often forms part of the grooming process for sexual abuse. Therefore when tackling the subject of pornography through curriculum, it should always be viewed through the lens of safeguarding and child protection.

Engaging with pornography is associated with risk factors for the victimization and the victimizing of others, the acceptance of sexist stereotypes, a decrease in mental wellbeing and self-esteem including body dysmorphia, reduced likelihood of condom use and increased experience of erectile dysfunction in males. Health care professionals have observed an increase in the number of young people, particularly females, presenting with injuries sustained whilst imitating behaviours normalised by porn.

The pornography industry as part of the wider sex industry is reliant on exploitative practices such as people trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children and other vulnerable people. Health and wellbeing outcomes for people involved in porn, particularly women, are often extremely poor including physical injury, PTSD and substance misuse. Therefore it is our belief that it is not possible to be a consumer of pornography whilst also recognizing and valuing the humanity of the people involved in its production.

Schools can work with young people to support their understanding of porn through work to develop skills for critical thinking and learning activities to explore forms of exploitation, sexual exploitation and how the representation of bodies and sexual activity in porn differs from real bodies and loving, respectful, consensual relationships.

Suggested spiral curriculum:

Primary school – challenging gender stereotypes; understanding the development of the male and female body during puberty; introducing critical thinking for media; boundaries and consent

Year 7 – challenging gender stereotypes as well as exploring the origins of such stereotypes; revision of bodily changes during puberty; sexting with the onus on not asking for images (introducing the concept of power balance in relationships and how it is often not easy to say no to people that we like or who have power over us, be it from a position of greater experience, authority or physical advantage); boundaries and consent; the law in relation to sexual activity

Year 8 – as above including discussion of the concept of ‘using people’ leading to the introduction of ‘exploitation’ through topics such as drugs cultivation and distribution (county lines), slavery; child sexual exploitation (CSE); analysis of representations of relationships and bodies in the media

Year 9 – Further exploration of exploitation across a range of contexts; development of understanding of CSE to include the wider sex industry; relationships and sex education focusing on the characteristics of healthy and abusive relationships

Year 10/11 – Development of relationships and sex education, focusing on the sexual aspect with reference to unhelpful messaging perpetuated through porn

Further Reading:

The Fully Human Project (Dr Elly Hanson in collaboration with the PSHE Association)

Culture Reframed (US Not for Profit)

Fight the New Drug (really useful resources, many of which are appropriate for use with young people)

Your Brain on Porn

It’s Time We Talked

The Truth About Porn

Collective Shout

Shared Hope

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