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      Should High School Students Be Shown Porn to Learn About Sex?

      Should High School Students Be Shown Porn to Learn About Sex? Should High School Students Be Shown Porn to Learn About Sex? Should High School Students Be Shown Porn to Learn About Sex?
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      Should High School Students Be Shown Porn to Learn About Sex?

      By Miriam Wells

      How should we teach teenagers the truth about sex? Show them pornography. Well, that's the argument of one Danish academic who is saying that given that porn is where many young people are getting their sex education anyway, critical discussions of it in the classroom are essential.

      Christian Graugaard, a sexology professor at Aalborg University in northern Denmark, told Danish television broadcaster DR earlier this month that traditional sex education in schools is boring and must be reinvented.

      "Rather than focusing on the technical, disease-related, or biological aspects of sex, we should also use this platform to discuss and show other phenomena, such as pornography, taught by trained teachers, so that young people can develop a critical approach to what they are seeing," he told DR.

      This week, Graugaard told VICE News that talking about pornographic images could help students learn to distinguish between fantasy and reality — though he's not proposing hardcore images be shown.

      "I see no need to show sexually active genitals in the classrooms — naked people in various sexual situations would do fine, " he said, suggesting Cupido, a Norwegian erotic magazine, as an example of teaching material. Cupido publishes soft pornographic images with lots of diversity in body types and sexuality, alongside articles about sex and relationships. "Alternatively, teachers could search the internet together with the students — and critically discuss what can easily be found in the virtual space," he said.

      Images need not even be shown at all, stressed Graugaard — what's important is talking about what is out there. "Pornography — or even erotic literature — is an excellent vehicle for critical discussion about the difference between fantasy and reality and the commercial media's expression of sexuality, gender roles, and body types," he said. "Also, softcore images may generate valuable discussions about the diversity of eroticism and even raise issues such as personal integrity, gender equality, human rights, and 'safer sex.'"

      The national guidelines for Danish sex education does incorporate a broad curriculum, said Graugaard, including issues such as gender roles, personal empowerment, and sexual diversity, as well as contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. But the guidelines are not necessarily followed, and the quantity and quality of sex education differs enormously from school to school, he claims. While a few schools do already show pornography, historically much of the focus has been on preventing pregnancies.

      It is crucial to remember that this is not a question of introducing teenagers to porn, said Graugaard.

      "According to Nordic research, the overwhelming majority of both girls and boys have already encountered pornographic images in their early teens," he said. "So of course we should make sure that they remain conscientious and critical consumers." 

      Teachers, parents, and youngsters in Denmark have publicly welcomed his proposal, Graugaard said. Ninth grade student Anders Kaagaard told DR, "I think you could get something out of it — for example the difference between real love between two people who have sex and hard porn and orgies from the US."

      Dr. Gail Dines, a professor in the sociology of media who runs the international campaign group Stop Porn Culture, told VICE News that while discussing porn in classrooms was an excellent idea, actually showing it could further the damage that it does to young people's nascent sexuality.

      "We really do not want to be showing young people more porn at that age," she said. "Aside from the fact that it would be illegal, as they are under 18, what we need to do is give boys an understanding of how porn actually works, which we can't do if they're aroused. We need to strip boys and men of their erections in order to have rational conversations about porn, the lives of the women in it, how it affects them, and their sexuality."

      'This would declaw the mainstream porn a little bit, take that exciting taboo element away.'

      British feminist porn producer and activist Pandora Blake had another suggestion for mitigating the damage done by mainstream porn — showing teenagers "ethical porn" instead. Ethical porn is defined as that in which performers are fairly paid, all acts are negotiated consensually, there is a wide variation of body types, genders, and sexualities, and there is a focus on the pleasure of all people involved.

      Showing this type of porn could neutralize the toxic effects of advertising, which tells young people that only one body type is desirable, Blake told VICE News, and combat the misogyny and degrading images often seen in mainstream porn.

      "If you want to show pupils how mainstream porn is not like real sex, you would do well to show ethical porn made by real life couples in love, or porn by feminist producers which shows real life negotiation and consent by performers," she said. "You can do all this without actually showing the sex," she said. "I would just show the intros to the scenes, and get students to critique the styling and body types on offer."

      Blake, who produces films for her website Dreams of Spanking, in which performers are fairly paid and negotiate onscreen about what they will do in their scenes, said watching and discussing porn at school could make it less appealing for students to seek out at home.

      "I can't fail to see how it wouldn't be an embarrassing experience to watch porn together with your teacher and fellow pupils. This would declaw the mainstream porn a little bit, take that exciting taboo element away," she said. "Professor Graugaard is totally right that most kids will have seen some porn, so discussing it would be a great start."

      Sex education should be a holistic discussion about relationships and romantic and sexual health, said Blake, teaching teenagers about consent and letting them know sexuality is broad and diverse.

      "My biggest concern about Graugaard's proposal is how teachers would be effectively trained when we have such a culture of sexual shame in our society, and many teachers are from an older generation who aren't familiar with modern pornography," she said. "Showing and discussing porn would have to be done by outside specialists who were under 30, internet literate, and specially trained."

      New official UK guidance on sex and relationship education (SRE) released in 2014 does recommend teachers discuss pornography with pupils, though it does not suggest actually showing it. The guidance, backed by the Department of Education, says that discussion of porn should be included in "lessons that focus on negotiation and assertiveness skills, the importance of communication in relationships, and analyzing the stereotyping in some media images."

      "Teaching can focus on the role of peer influence in young people's lives, the importance of not pressuring or coercing a partner to look at pornography or imitate behaviors in it, and the skills required to resist unwanted pressure," the guidance states. More than 80 percent of parents of secondary school pupils want to see issues around pornography addressed in sex and relationship education, it says.

      Whether such discussions are actually taking place is another question. A survey of more than 2,500 young people carried out by the UK's National Union of Students earlier this year found only a third said they could practically apply information covered in SRE lessons in their real lives. More than two thirds said SRE lessons had been "fair, poor, or terrible," and more than half said issues they need to know about are not covered. More than two thirds said they had used porn to find out about sex.

      This is why discussing and/or screening porn in classrooms is so crucial, said Professor Graugaard.

      "We should encourage youngsters to explore the joys of sexuality on their own terms and strengthen their ability to maneuver in a complex late-modern world," he told VICE News. "The ultimate goal of sex education is to make sure that teenagers are capable of making sensible, healthy, responsible, and personal choices — and to make sure that they are able to distinguish between media phantasms and real life."

      Photo via Flickr

      Topics: europe, pornography, sex education, education, denmark, united kingdom, ethical porn

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