Porn for kids is not the answer. Better sex ed is

Teen girls think it is normal to be choked or throttled during a snog

“Someone needs to create porn for children!” tweeted Flora Gill this week. I’m fond of Flora – I was her dad AA Gill’s Editor for 20 years and I’m a mate of her mum’s (former Home Secretary Amber Rudd) – but I groaned when I read this. It continued:“Young teens are already watching porn but they’re finding hard core, aggressive videos that give a terrible view of sex. They need entry level porn! A soft core site where everyone asks for consent and nobody gets choked.”

Flora, who has inherited the familial penchant for scandalous pronouncement, obviously realised she had gone too far, attempting to delete her tweet. But the outrage was instant. Did she believe in “entry-level cannabis and cocaine” or “entry-level alcohol”, too? Was she aware that  Section 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it a crime to cause a child to watch a sexual act? Making porn for children to consume would be not only illegal but unethical.

But I also totally understand where Flora is coming from. She is right that something needs to be done about our out-of-control abusive teen sex culture.

The state of porn and kids

The evidence that our kids are learning about sex from violent internet porn and enacting what they see there is right in front of us. Just click on Everyone’s Invited and read reams of harrowing tales about entitled boys exploiting their peers, or check out for recent research from the NSPCC  in which the normalisation of what were once extreme sexual practices is terrifying. I am currently researching a book about teens and sex and last week I interviewed a group of 17 year olds at a top rated sixth form college. Their parents are affluent professionals and the girls are all going to good universities in the autumn. But their tales from the teen sex front line are shocking.

What girls experience now, related to porn

“You get choked as a matter of course”, said Claire, 17.  “The boys don’t ask you they just try and throttle you when you link (snog) at a party. Amongst my friends it is as normal for someone to choke us as someone touching your bum, or your face. It’s like holding your hand.”

Isabel, 18, nods enthusiastically. “If I ‘link’ with someone at a party the next day I will be covered in bruises and have scratches which have broken the skin on my back. Boys don’t ask if you want that, they just do it as a matter of course. It’s not pleasurable, it hurts. But in our teen world it is normal.  The more inexperienced the boy, the more likely they are to do those rough things. My first encounters were with boys who slammed me against things, arms pinned down, every single time.. choking. On the first or second ‘get with’ – they push your head down so forcefully to give them a blow job without even asking, even when you are unconscious and crying and telling them to stop. They’ve watched so much porn they think that is normal.”

This is the backdrop which has led Gill to suggest teens need a new script. She isn’t the only one. Last week a new sex App Karma launched that also wants to change the script, as do sites such as Make Love Not Porn. It isn’t that the kids are intentionally trying to hurt each other, they’ve just seen so much online porn with its violent, degrading scenarios that think that’s what sex is.

My 10-year campaign against porn

I have been writing about this for over a decade. Collectively we know something needs to be done. Successive government have promised action but then given in to pressure from big tech and not insisted on age-verification for adult material. (This is possible – if gambling sites can enforce an over-18 limit, why can’t PornHub?) We live in a society where you can’t see certain movies till you are over 18 but any curious boy can Google sex and get a smorgasbord of depravity up on his screen in seconds. And don’t sit there smugly thinking my little Jonny isn’t doing that – research shows the vast majority of pre-teen and teen boys are looking at this stuff. You can bury your head in the sand but your child is watching this stuff too.

So what can we do about it? I don’t think soft-core porn-lite for kids is the answer. As Professor Alan McKee explains, “Porn makes sex look easy” it doesn’t show the difficult conversations involved in getting to that point, or anything about consent or practicing safe sex (and that goes for softer stuff too). Justin Hancock of Bish Training who creates Sex and Relationship Education material for schools writes that in porn sex is something one person does To another, not WITH another. Young people need to learn about sex in the  broader context of loving and consensual relationships.

Teach kids about respect, not porn

In the Netherlands they start in primary school telling kids about respecting your body, and those of other people. We all need to be having these conversations, not just teachers, but parents too – by the time kids see porn we need to have told them that learning about sex from RedTube or PornHub is like learning to drive by watching the Fast and the Furious.

You may squirm at the thought of this kind of frank, loving communication but if we don’t talk to our kids about this stuff  then ubiquitous, addictively-packaged online porn sneaks into the knowledge gap with its poisonous misogynist message that women are objects and orifices to be pounded and abused. Don’t believe me? Well, in my conversations with teens I hear repeatedly about how boys expect blow jobs but don’t reciprocate. Many girls now see sex as performative, concerned about looking and acting ‘right’ rather than their own right to sexual pleasure.

I talk to too many who have had many partners but no orgasms. A new kind of sex education, moving beyond putting condoms on boiling tubes, or bananas, which talks about mutual pleasure, consent and connection is long overdue. I’d like kids in future to look at porn and say – why is that woman not having an orgasm? Why didn’t he ask for consent?

Us older folk grew up in a sexual vacuum. Boys found old copies of Playboy, girls read the dirty bits in Jackie Collins or Jilly Cooper. When you got into bed with a real, live person, we didn’t have many preconceptions. We fumbled around, often in the dark, and did what felt good. Of course there was exploitation too, but we hadn’t had our expectations set to extreme before we’d ever kissed someone. Today too many kids think hurting people and exploiting them is what sex is. We all have a responsibility to tell them another story.

I am not saying this because I am a prude — quite the contrary. I want all of our young people to have happy, kind, fulfilling, consenting raunchy sex lives. So no, Flora. We don’t need porn for children, we need better relationship and sexual education – not just from teachers, but from all of us.

Eleanor Mills

teens

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