The Current

Should pornography be a part of sexual education in schools?

Pornography is now so easy to access online that some advocates are calling for it to be addressed in the classroom.
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When children can access hardcore pornography with just a few clicks online, is it time for the subject to become part of sex education in schools?

Last month, Florida's House of Representatives passed a measure declaring pornography a public health risk.

Some experts agree that it could be affecting children at a vulnerable stage in their development.

"The way that one can easily go to very extreme or very specialized content is a significant concern," says Matthew Johnson, citing videos of violent acts as an example.

"We do have young people, just developing their sexuality," he says, "frequently seeking out porn as a means of sex education, and being exposed to things they're really not ready for."

Johnson is director of education at Media Smarts, a non-profit group focused on digital and media literacy.

When we don't talk to young people about sex, when we don't give them good information that's age-appropriate, porn reaches in to fill the gap.- Kristen Gilbert

Unlike other forms of media, he says, children aren't as critical about what they are seeing when they view pornography.

It often isn't packaged with any of the traditional markers of a produced program, like music or credits, and therefore children can take it as a reflection of reality.

"[Young people are] taking their sexual script from pornography," he says, adding that it informs their expectations on everything from consent to what their own body should look like.

Talk to your children about sex

To combat this lack of critical awareness, Kristen Gilbert suggests talking openly with children about sex.

"When we don't talk to young people about sex, when we don't give them good information that's age-appropriate, porn reaches in to fill the gap," says Gilbert, the education director of Options for Sexual Health.

"They're learning about their bodies, they're learning about sexual scripts… they're learning about what pleasure looks like."  

Gilbert believes that children aren't getting the sex education they deserve in schools, but they are finding ways to explore human sexuality.

I would say that porn is coming to us uninvited. ... Let's really not invite watching porn itself into the curriculum.- Dr. Teresa Pierre

Is porn dangerous?

Some advocates say that children shouldn't be given information about sex and pornography until they're old enough to handle it — and the conversation should include negatives and positives.

"I have no opposition to a generalized discussion of porn," Dr. Teresa Pierre says, "and especially the harms around it."

Pierre is acting-president of Parents as First Educators, a group that supports parental authority over their children's education, and opposes Ontario's current sex education curriculum.

"I would say that porn is coming to us uninvited," she says. "Let's really not invite watching porn itself into the curriculum."

Pierre cites research that suggests "porn-watching causes physiological changes in the brain, which is one of the hallmarks of addiction."

Gilbert disagrees, pointing out that none of the official psychiatric and psychological regulatory bodies recognise sex or porn addiction as valid.

The age of consent in Canada is 16, Gilbert argues that children should be given the information they need before then.

Pornography should be discussed whenever it comes up organically in class, she says.

"I'm definitely hoping, certainly by Grade 8, that people have a lot of information about this that they can use."

"And I'm really hoping that parents and caregivers are picking up the slack at home."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.


This segment was produced by The Current's Julie Crysler and Danielle Carr.

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