This week one private school headmaster suggested that he would allow someone from the sex industry to speak to pupils as an element of their sex education. His reasoning? That a younger person with experience in the industry speaking about that experience would be more relatable and credible than a teacher could be discussing the issues surrounding pornography.
Not once did Mr Slater suggest showing pornography in class. He definitely didn't suggest showing it to five year olds (let's bear in mind he heads up a secondary school). He did not suggest normalising pornography, or recommending becoming a porn star to his students.
However, the response to Slater's statements has been predictably hysterical. Some have suggested that such involvement would 'normalise' the porn industry for teenagers, with its acknowledgement resulting in its legitimisation. Some have suggested that this amounts to an unsanctioned exposure of easily influenced teenagers to an unhealthy influence. None of this has been helped by the inflammatory headlines involved either. "Porn Star to Teach Sex Ed" hardly conveys this carefully considered proposal, nor the motivations behind it.
What all this actually represents is a reactionary response to a perfectly rational suggestion. With sex attacks performed by children on the increase and the ridiculously easy accessibility of porn, the need for a radical diversification of our relationship and sex education provision is evident. The biggest issue with our archaic system is that the focus is on the biological elements of sexual relationships rather than the emotional elements that play just as essential a role in those relationships.
In an increasingly diverse society relationships no longer follow a regulated pattern where sex is conducted in broadly the same manner within the same parameters and restrictions. Sex is often an instigating element of relationships and the pressure from peers to engage is outstanding. The psychological damage caused by the influence of sexual relationships founded without understanding their emotional implications can be monumental and, more importantly, can alter a teenager's interpretation of a healthy relationship forever. The recently ignited debate concerning introducing consent and sexual assault education perfectly demonstrated this. When teenagers don't have a full knowledge of what means yes and what means no in terms of their sexual relationships, what hope can they have of forming healthy emotional ones?
Pornography, like consent, is now too large an issue to ignore. A quick Google search will bring up free content and four out of five 16-year-olds regularly access pornography online. It is clearly too late to prevent teenagers from accessing this material and it is naïve to claim that they are not doing so. Pornography is already 'normal' for teenagers. Instead, it is essential to educate teenagers about the industry. From the unhealthy way in which sex is presented in porn to the actualities of the production of pornography, who better to discuss the damage pornography can cause than someone who has experienced this industry, and its problems, first hand?
Without acknowledging the changing parameters of society, we risk permanently damaging it. Those who argue against these measures were, on the whole, teenagers in the pre-internet era. With the sharing capabilities of social media, young relationships are more intense, more emotionally charged and more public. With the wide-ranging accessibility of Internet material, sexuality is more easily explored. With our increasingly casual discussion of sex, sexual relationships have become increasingly casual too. The curbing of the Internet to 'protect' the young, as some have suggested, is impossible.
We have seen the damage that ignoring these issues in favour of a 'simpler' or more traditional approach can do. Abstinence education in America, despite being designed to reduce the number of teenagers entering into adult sexual relationships, has had no effect on the instance of these and has instead led to increased rates of sexual disease. The values, and so educational requirements, that applied to relationships for previous generations simply aren't operable when put in the context of the society teenagers are operating in today. Ignoring the issue by not acknowledging it clearly fails our children by doing more harm than good.
Pornography presents sex in an unhealthy and unusual manner, one that does not fit within an emotional, romantic relationship. If teens believe this is normal then their relationships will be damaged by their subsequent expectations and conduct. Educating teens on the real, emotional conflicts that they will face within a sexual relationship may be more challenging than educating them about sexual health. However, it is the only way of preventing the lasting psychological harm that an unhealthy relationship, both emotional and sexual, can cause.