Zoo PornToday, after months of thinking, talking and planning, the door finally opened on Hard Lesson #7: Porn Is Not Sex. As any of my colleagues will tell you, I talk about pornography quite a bit at school, even going so far as presenting the issue to all staff. It is not that I am a prude, or against porn or sex, it is simply that I believe that Internet porn, with its limitless variety and complete lack of filters, is having a terrible effect on my students. As a norm, western society is bizarrely fine with extreme acts of violence, yet we do not really talk about sex. It is all around us, in adverts, on TV and on the Internet, but we rarely council children on anything other than the purely physical.

My concern, and I am not alone in this by any means, is that young boys and girls, searching for “porn” on Google, with search filters turned off, are confronted with a world of hardcore sex with no guidance, no norms and no help. Their “normal” is formed in a world where breast implants, anal bleaching, non-loving sex and labioplasty are the norm. I like to explain it like this: image you lived your whole life in a room, having no contact with the outside world except Hollywood movies. One day, when you eventually leave the room, you would be amazed that not everyone was violent, highly sexed, incredibly good looking and constantly battling aliens. And it is just like that with porn: kids growing up on a diet of porn will be very confused when they enter the real world and discover that breasts come in multiple sizes and shapes, that real people have pubic hair, that orgasms happen very fast or not at all, and that not everyone acts, or wants to act, like a porn star.

To me, sex is one of the most loving, intimate and exciting acts that two people can share. It is a gift you can give to someone you love. It is physical yes, but more than this it is personal, sensual, spiritual and vulnerable. Mainstream Internet porn is non of these things: it is contrived, disposable, confronting and inauthentic.

And so, in a world where parents won’t discuss this with their kids, and there are few priests left, who is it that might help students understand that porn is to sex as Hollywood movies are to real life? I guess it comes down to teachers, most of whom would not touch this issue with a barge pole, and for some pretty legitimate reason.

Well, in the course of my investigation into how I might teach this issue, I complied some materials and stored them on my desktop in a folder called Porn 101. It has been there for a few months, and countless students must have seen it on screen in my classes. Yet no one said a thing about it…until a little Year 7 girl bravely asked, in front of all her peers, “Mr. Parker, why do you have a folder on your desktop called Porn 101?”. She was closely followed by a boy, who, of course, asked “Can we see inside it please, sir?”.

Not one to lie to my students, but also not ready to get into a lengthy discussion with kids this young, I simply said that I was looking at the possibility of running a Year 9 ICT unit on pornography because I thought it was an important issue in their personal development, and for society as a whole. They giggled a little, asked some more questions, and that was that.

But then, a few days later, an older boy in a class with whom I have covered a few Hard Lessons, asked the same question. And here it was, the golden opportunity to see how students would react to this topic. I did not bring it up, but I was not going to let it pass. And it went a little something like this:

  • Student 1: “Mr. Parker, can I ask why you have a folder on your desktop called Porn 101?”
  • Mr. P: “Well, that is an interesting question. Do you want to know the answer, or should we just get on with our work?”
  • All Students: “We would like to know”.
  • Mr. P: “OK, well we all know that the Internet is full of porn and…”
  • Student 2: “Yeah, aren’t like half of all searches on Google for porn?”
  • Mr. P: “More like 1 in 6, but yes, you’ve got it right, there are a lot of searches for porn. The fact is, there is tonnes of porn on the Internet. And this worries me, and not because I am a prude. I think nudity and human bodies and sex are wonderful. But the problem is, porn is not real sex.” Note: seems like 1 in 7 searches is more accurate, but of course, it is all estimates.
  • Student 3: [looks very surprised and disappointed]
  • Mr. P: “No, Student 3, don’t get me wrong, the actors in porn are really having sex. It is just that the sex they are having is not very authentic. Imagine growing up and knowing only Hollywood movies, never going into the real world, just stuck in a room with lots of DVDs. What would the world be like when you finally experienced it? Yes, it would seem very strange, lacking in violence and perfect people and aliens. And this is what porn is like, it is a fiction, it is not real, it is a misrepresentation.”
  • Students: [flurry of questions]
  • Student 4: “So, what is the folder for?”
  • Mr. P: “Well, I was planning a Year 9 ICT unit, but I am not sure the school will let me run it. I am still discussing it with some people.”
  • Student 5: “Why would the school not want you to run it?”
  • Student 6: “Duh, because our parents would not like it.”
  • Mr. P: “I am sure your parents want you to learn to be happy and well adjusted, but I guess there is a possibility that they might misunderstand what I am trying to teach you…”

And so we talked for a few more minutes, before getting back to website design. A few kids made jokes, some others asked questions, but that was that. Their curiosity was clearly engaged, and this was certainty something they weren’t expecting. Before the students left, I asked, if during our pastoral time, they would be interested in asking me anonymous questions about porn and sex, just in case there was anything they thought they wanted to know. The kids milled around, looked away and busied themselves with their bags…until one student said “Well, let’s just say that no one is saying no to this idea”. I took the hint. We shall return.

Closing Thoughts

I guess ultimately, my interest in this topic is fuelled by a desire for my students to have healthy, loving relationships in the future. I fear a generation, bred on porn, who expect to do whatever they want to their partners, whilst partners expect to have to do anything asked of them, like it or not. I feat students growing up expecting sex to be a perfect performance, rather than a loving experiment in giving, not taking. And because porn on the Internet confirms to standard gender roles, it is likely that boys will learn to expect the right to treat girls as sex objects, whilst girls will learn to conform in order to be loved. This is not a world I want my students to inhabit.

Porn Resources

If you are interested in learning more, you might want to check out the following resources, all of which I have found influential and thought provoking.

Part II – Q&A

Added 28/04/2014. As promised, today I did an anonymous question session with the same students mentioned above. Each student who had a question they wanted to ask about porn or sex, could write it out on a strip of paper, which was folded up and placed in a box. Once we had around a dozen questions I read them out and answered them honestly and openly, sharing some stories from my past. The students responded really well, and the questions were interesting and revealing. During discussions, some students really opened up, which was great to see.

Image credit: Zoo Porn by Dave Hogg on Flickr shared under CC BY