"Generation Porn"?* (2)
- 20 Sep 2014 12:00
- Written by Michèle Bartlett
This was the title of an article in The Sunday Times outlining alarming statistics about the sexualisation of society and the effect of this on young people.
The days when teenage boys sniggered over a "dirty mag" (which they had to somehow get off the top shelf of the newsagent) are long gone. Young people have easy access to the internet on smartphones and tablets in spaces not overseen by adult control or content filters. A simple search online may bring up hard core and graphic content way beyond anything that would have been availabe in an "adult" magazine. Teenagers have always been curious about sex, so they will be looking, but clicking on the links may take them somewhere they ddin't intend to go. Children as young as 8 are viewing porn online, maybe without even understanding what they are seeing.
The prevalence of sexual imagery in the media and on the internet is affecting young peoples' relationships. Viewing graphic sexual content at an early age, some of it violent or disturbing in nature, has the potential to distort the capacity to form loving intimate relationships. An emergent phenomenon in teenage relationships is the demand from young males for girls to act out scenarios as seen on online porn, often involving brutality or degradation.
There is also pressure on both sexes to conform to unrealistic stereotypes of how their bodies "should" look, comparing themselves to photoshopped or airbrushed media images, whilst "sexting" via social media is now commonplace, despite the risks involved.
Underlying these everyday social interactions is the wider backdrop of sexual imagery, which has been around for some time in the constant "wallpaper" of music videos and advertising. A quick trawl through ads for products as diverse as cars and mineral water throws up troubling images depicting, for example, gang rape and bondage.
In this context it is not enough to talk about sex education. What young people need nowadays is sex and relationships education that offers a space to talk about what is really going on in thier lives and the pressures that they deal with on a daily basis. This is not a PHSE talk with teachers. It's probably not a talk with parents either. Parents either don't know or don't want to know what their teenage children are getting up to online and teenagers are naturally secretive.
The Department for Education has fudged this issue but sex education is currently not fit for purpose. Young people deserve to have a neutral space to talk about this with properly trained professionals. The young people I meet in schools are thoughtful and reflective about these issues. They are also willing to talk frankly about subjects such as internet pornography... but then I'm not going to be teaching them Maths next lesson!
Tags: SRE, sex education, internet pornography, sexting, young people
* The Sunday Times News Review "Generation Porn" 16/06/13