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Primary school children are already accessing pornography – pretending it doesn’t exist won’t help them

I’m a sexual health education facilitator, which involves delivering sex ed classes in schools. Parents consistently tell me and my colleagues that their children are first exposed to online pornography at the age of around 11 – a fact that never fails to shock. Especially when you consider that plenty of mainstream pornography depicts situations that aren’t necessarily what happens in consensual and spontaneous pleasure-seeking sexual activities.

According to a recent report by Internet Matters, a non-profit organisation working to keep children safe online, youngsters usually access pornography through friends, by seeing pop-up ads or the “get out of jail free” card – accidentally stumbling across it. Statistically, this means that there are many primary school children around the country accessing pornography.

Since children are viewing this material well before becoming sexually active, or, in many cases, even before having received any kind of relationships and sex education (RSE), they are using porn as a way of learning about their sexuality. This damages the potential for positive attitudes towards sexuality and pleasure.

This would not be the case if inclusive and comprehensive RSE, which acknowledges a range of sexual preferences, sexual identities and pleasure-seeking experiences, alongside non-partisan descriptions of diverse family structures, was made compulsory in all schools.

One of our suggested solutions is to teach “porn literacy” classes to address digital literacy. For instance, examining how various social power dynamics can play out in mainstream porn and the possible real-life impacts.

Rianna Raymond-Williams, founder and managing director of Shine Aloud UK, an organisation which works with young people to help educate them about sex-related issues, said: “Obviously, using porn to learn about sex is damaging as it provides young people with a distorted view of sex and relationships, making it difficult for some to distinguish the different between fantasy and reality.”

There is evidently a great need for us as independent educators, who the children can related to on a different level, to provide alternative information about their sexual potential.

Since the invention of the internet, people have been creating and propagating sexually explicit material with increasing ease. The government has tried to curb criminal and unethical behaviours pertaining to sex, but all of the laws have, to date, been exceptionally ineffective in their ability to stop minors viewing pornography.

The latest attempt comes into effect next month, whereby all commercial providers of online pornography are required by law to carry out robust age-verification checks on users, to ensure that they are 18 or over.

There is no evidence to suggest this will stop 11 year olds accessing porn. Which is why organisations such as Sexplain, where I’m a team member, are bridging the porn literacy gap. Most online pornography encourages the objectification of women, portrays women as submissive sex objects and promotes harmful behaviours that young people may begin to mirror in their own relationships.

Amelia Jenkinson, co-founder of Sexplain, said: “We address pornography through discursive, up-to-date and creative workshops, in a non-judgemental and safe space. Through this we can open up honest dialogue and support young people to make informed life choices with their own health and well-being at the centre.”

This includes teaching young people about sex organs and by each modelling anatomically corrects versions out of brightly coloured Play-Doh, which is a really fun low-pressure, yet highly educational activity.

But sex ed needn’t end with our school days. Lina Bembe is an adult performer and co-creator of Sex School, a Berlin-based collective making explicit sex education films for adults. Performers enact real life situations on film to show the full potential of human sexuality.