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Warts and All: Porn and Young People

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Is porn a "huge wart" on our society, as Germaine Greer puts it, or is it beneficial? Or both? And is it worth studying as an academic discipline?

Whatever your views are on pornography, and especially on how it affects the next generation, we can't deny that it's freely and easily accessible for people of all ages, and that it is clearly a part of daily lives for many.

Rather than fruitlessly ranting about porn's existence, I think it makes more sense to study it and also to try to harness it as a potentially useful tool.

The fact is that kids can watch porn on their computers and no matter how many adults tell them not to or try to set controls on their internet services, young people will find a way. One could add that their parents, too, were once curious about sex, and they found a way to talk about it, learn about it, and maybe even look at it or watch it.

Given that young people want to know about sex - and, I would argue, have a right and a need to learn about what a healthy sex life is - why don't we ensure that they have access to high quality, honest sex education? This can be in the schools, of course, and it can be via literature, but maybe it's also worth thinking about using the source that kids themselves employ the most: the internet.

We can use pornographic pictures and films as educational tools in classrooms. And we can also make better, more realistic ones, so that young people (and, of course, older people) have a chance to learn about sex in a way that's more authentic. If such porn were the norm, young people would learn a lot more about sex than they do from the fake sex scenes they currently have access to, and if this sort of porn were used as part of comprehensive sex education, people might begin to feel more open and less embarrassed about their bodies and their desires.

What should such pictures and films and even books do?

Well, they can teach kids what their body parts are called and how they work, and how they can use their bodies to pleasure themselves and each other.

They can show them real bodies, warts and all, so viewers realise that adults generally do come with hair in all sorts of places, and that penises and vulvas and bodies in general can be a variety of different shades and sizes.

Porn can help explain that people need different techniques, different types of touch, different positions, and different toys in order to enjoy themselves. Rough banging or a few swats at a clitoris or rapid jerking might appear to work for a lot people in traditional porn films, but movies that are more representative of real people can show that these aren't actually the activities that get everyone off. Young people tend not to be sexually experienced or confident, so teaching them about a multitude of techniques can be really helpful.

Let porn show that sex can be or include all sorts of things: people can laugh, cry, get angry, feel ecstatic, and much more. It's not just in-out-scream-done.

Let it show that people can have sex with themselves, with one other person, with two, with three, and so on. Show that you can have sex with people who are the same sex or a different one, the same race or religion or age or a different one, and so on. Show people of all body shapes and abilities enjoying being together sexually.

And since porn exists, it's worth studying it from an academic perspective to see what it tells us about our desires and fantasies, and how these vary among cultures, time periods, ages, genders, and more. We can have these sorts of conversations with young people too, to show them that they are normal and their desires are normal.

Lamenting that porn is around and that people can access it isn't going to change anything. Instead, let's admit that people want to see pictures of naked bodies and want to watch films of others having sex, and let's use that fact to try to encourage the porn industry to make a broader range of pornographic books, pictures, and movies that might be both enjoyable and educational.

We may not be able to remove the wart, but we can accept that it's part of society's face, and we can do something useful with it.

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