Gender Respect Project 2013-2016

Aiming to help children and young people to understand, question and challenge gender inequality and violence.

How do we teach students about pornography?

In my school, Year 11 start the year with a PSHE topic about sex and relationships. They have already learned a lot of factual information earlier down in the school, topics like puberty, contraception, Sexually Transmitted Infections, pregnancy and parenthood, so we focus on relationship skills, consent and how the media can affect people’s expectations of a sexual relationship. We also talk to students about the impact of pornography.

Why? I can imagine a lot of teachers would be quite daunted by the idea of teaching young people about such a sensitive topic and unsure of how to go about it. But the NSPCC Sexting report of 2012 shows that accessing sexually explicit material is a real concern for young people. In a 2007 national survey 61% of young women said that they wanted teachers to raise the issue of pornography in lessons, 33% of young men said that they thought pornography was useful for learning about sex and over 90% of young men over 18 have viewed hardcore pornography. (Source- Sheffield Centre for Sexual Health training materials). I wanted to create a space where young people felt safe to ask questions about pornography and to discuss their views on it. As a school we wanted to send a message about the impact viewing pornography could have on a person’s expectations of sex.

I put together an idea of a lesson plan and got approval from the head and the school’s governors. Initially they were quite concerned about the subject matter but were quickly reassured once they saw the ideas for the lesson and understood the angle we were taking. We also sent letters home to parents to inform them that we would be covering issues such as consent, sexting and pornography. This is now the second year of running the lessons and we have had no parental concerns. The students have reported that after receiving the letter some parents have checked what their children are accessing via phones and computers, though!

The lesson starts with asking students to define what is meant by ‘porn’ and a discussion about the purpose of porn and how it is defined in law. We then complete a true or false quiz about facts and figures associated with the porn industry and the legal issues around porn. The main part of the lesson is a continuum style discussion about their own views on porn and this is revisited after watching a clip from a Channel 4 documentary where an ex-porn actor describes her experiences of working in the industry. The lesson ends with students self-assessing what they have learned and if their views have changed as a result of the lesson.

The main things that strike me are how mature students are with this lesson, after a few questions about whether or not I am going to show them a video of porn (!) they are inevitably really serious and thoughtful. They are shocked about the rise in plastic surgery for penis enlargements, breast augmentation and vaginoplasty as a result of unrealistic expectations as more young people watch porn. In most of my classes it has been a student who has pointed out that porn is often very derogatory towards women and the language used is often very negative.

I would thoroughly recommend considering developing a set of lessons around these bigger issues to do with relationships for older students (or use my resources!) in your own school and I hope sharing my experiences of how to go about this are helpful.