Challenging the porn industry effectively means we must tackle its normalisation in schools and universities

Much of the work we do here at CEASE focuses on the exploitation that goes on within the commercial sex trade, particularly on the violence and abuse that women and children are subjected to at the hands of exploiters. But one issue that often slips under the radar in the wider conversation on this topic is how the sex industry and wider porn culture is influencing the implementation of sexual health and education classes within schools and other educational institutions.

Recently, educational training group Brook Learn introduced a textbook that was sent to all PSHE teachers in Wales which specifically referenced the use of porn in sexual health and education.

At first glance, this might seem like a positive step. So often, sexual health and education forgoes any discussion of porn entirely, leaving it to be dealt with by parents or worse yet, leaving curious children to seek it out for themselves with no safeguarding measures in place at all. However, this brief moment of positivity is quickly dispelled when it becomes clear exactly what Brook Learn are advocating.

Within the textbook, Brook Learn state:

Watching porn…can be a very healthy part of someone’s sex life and self-discovery and is nothing to be ashamed of”.

This might be an understandable position for somebody to take had they no prior understanding of how the porn industry functions – particularly given the inescapable and ubiquitous nature of the porn culture younger generations have grown up in – but for an organisation that exists with the purpose of educating educators, it is simply unacceptable.

First and foremost, there is myriad research highlighting the catastrophic health impact porn use has on those who watch it, and even more so when those users are exposed to it from a young age. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, poor body image self-perception, and even erectile dysfunction amongst young boys and teens are all par for the course.

The textbook also fails to deal with the increasing levels of porn use-related sexual objectification and violence that is occurring amongst teenagers in schools across the country. We only need to look at the viral media attention that was cultivated around the campaign group Everyone’s Invited, a website set up to document the innumerable instances of sexual harassment and objectification experienced by young women and girls. This, as well as the campaigning work of We Can’t Consent to This, drew clear links between experiences of sexual violence and objectification, and porn use by the perpetrators.

A harrowing number of case studies provided by We Can’t Consent to This touch upon the porn use of men who kill their female partners, and how the desire to introduce degrading and violent acts that they had seen in porn ultimately resulted in the deaths of the women subjected to such behaviour.

It is a dereliction of duty by Brook Learn not to provide a critical evaluation of the impact porn use has on those who consume it, particularly as many of the resources they provide will ultimately be used when teaching young children. Equally, it is vital that this issue is not simply brushed under the rug.

Porn use has been a source of shame and embarrassment for users and educators alike, with the latter often forgoing any education on the subject for fear of not being able to engage with this challenging topic. But given how prevalent porn use now is within society, it is no good to hope that it will simply go away.

We must acknowledge that people of all ages still think porn use is unproblematic, with no harmful effects, and then combat this with robust and empirically-sound research and data.

For those educational bodies and organisations that want to ensure sexual health education in the 21st century is progressive, informative, and most importantly, helpful to those receiving it, they must recognise the deleterious impact porn has, and continues to have, on the emotional, psychological, and physical development of teens and young people. In failing to do this, those same bodies and organisations fail the young groups and individuals they have been set up to help.