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Should Porn Be On The School Curriculum?

05/03/2017 23:44 GMT | Updated 05/03/2017 23:44 GMT
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Should porn be on the school curriculum?

This is the question now being asked following the Government's announcement that it is to make relationships and sex education compulsory in all English schools. And the answer should be an unequivocal yes.

This is not about showing pornography to young people, or about telling them not to view pornography. It's about providing a forum in which they can share their views and experiences, and learn about the realities of pornography. The online commercial pornography that is freely available, and easily accessible, is deeply racist and deeply sexist, and often glorifies sexual violence. It is sex from a very particular masculine view: online commercial pornography is not interested in women's sexual pleasure. Pornography, therefore, presents an unrealistic and distorted view of sex and sexual relationships. Yet, worryingly, when asked about what they think of porn, over half of young boys thought that it provided a realistic representation of sex.

At the extreme, this leads to the situation described by Laura Bates in her evidence to the Women & Equalities Select Committee investigation into sexual harassment in schools. She reported an instance of rape in a school where the young boy was asked why he didn't stop when the girl was crying. He replied that it was 'normal for girls to cry during sex'. It may well be in pornography, but not in reality. This might be a rare case, but the evidence before the Women & Equalities Committee painted the picture of routine sexual harassment of young women in schools.

This is why relationships and sex education must be compulsory: it can play a vital role, as part of a broader strategy, in reducing the prevalence of sexual harassment and violence in schools. And this is why it must be compulsory for all young people, with no parental opt-out or exceptions for faith schools. All young people deserve to be educated on issues of sexual consent; to have the opportunity to discuss sex, sexual practices and relationships in an open and supportive environment. It is what young people, especially girls, are calling for. Indeed, they must be so educated if we are to begin to see a reduction in sexual harassment and violence.

But this is also about children and young people's rights, independent of the interests of their parents. It is the right of each child to receive education on relationships and sex, without their parents being able to control what they learn. This is what young people want, and indeed the vast majority of parents want.

So, including porn in the new curriculum for relationships and sex education is not some whacky idea. It has the cross-party support of Parliament's Women & Equalities Select Committee. Surveys suggest wide support amongst the public, including parents, and young people themselves are asking for help in navigating the online world of pornography, sexting and social media. Indeed, even the Catholic Church recommends schools discuss the 'negative effects of pornography' as part of their relationships and sex education guidance.

The bottom line is that if we don't include education about pornography in the school curriculum, young people will carry on using it as their source of information and understanding about sex and relationships. That is truly concerning and does not bode well for the future well-being of young girls or boys.