Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Why our children need lessons in pornography

NOW, children, let’s take a look at pornography.
What? Are you serious?
Yes, I am. But now I have your attention I’m going to ask you to consider a couple of other things first before we come to the porn.
Consider the case of my friend who, though happy with his job, was tempted by the prospect of a better one abroad.
Before you take a step such as emigrating – or even just applying for a job in a foreign land – you of course have to consult your family. Which in his case includes teenage children.
Would they be happy to emigrate? To leave their friends and start a new life in a new school somewhere completely different?
Oh yes, they’d love to, it’d be awesome. Great.
Next thing, before my friend has even had a chance to put together his application for the exciting opportunity, his kids are bubbling with enthusiasm to their mates.
And not just their close mates either.
Everyone they share BBM with. (For those, like me, who have only the dimmest idea, that’s something called BlackBerry Messaging – something to do with a mobile phone network.)
And everyone who reads their Facebook status – and, crucially, passes the gossip on.
Which in total means pretty well everyone at school. Including, of course, the children of my friend’s colleagues. And boss.
So next morning at work he’s greeted with: “I hear you’re emigrating. When are you moving?”
Now consider Argos, famous as a catalogue firm with more than 700 shops across the UK. Preparing to “reposition itself in the market” as an internet-led business.
Or The Guardian, one of Britain’s most respected newspapers, having to deny strong rumours that it’s going to stop printing and become an internet-only media outlet. Ouch again.
Or the Kindle, which an industry analyst described the other day as “a device for enforcing an Amazon monopoly” in the book trade. It’s not quite a monopoly, of course, but the internet giant already has such a huge share of the market it can dictate to publishers in much the way the big supermarkets control their suppliers.
Consider especially those sad and sorry children who give way to pressure and allow themselves to be filmed in “intimate situations”.
Those, too, who use their own mobile phones to take over-revealing pictures of themselves.
All these things, which may start out merely cheekily, almost innocently, risqué, can appear a lot worse once they’re uploaded to the internet.
Irretrievable. Passed round. Not just at school (which may be more than bad enough) but round a whole worldwide web of dirty old men.
Including, perhaps, that future potential employer.
So there you are, I promised you some porn. Or, rather, to talk about porn.
Which is what teachers are being encouraged to do in sex education lessons.
Not – as I mischievously hinted above, or as Outraged Of Tunbridge Wells has inevitably imagined – actually show pornographic material in class. But to talk about it and the issues it raises.
Porn is out there, all around us, on every newsagent’s shelves, on every laptop computer or internet-enabled hand-held device.
It’s certainly around every secondary school – as it was, in a milder, less all-pervading form in mine. And, no doubt, yours.
From the time they change schools at 11, children cannot avoid it. So it makes sense for them to discuss it, to be encouraged to consider what it really means.
In fact, it doesn’t just make sense to talk about it, it’s essential.
I heard porn described this week as “poor quality sex education”, which is certainly one thing it is.
So it’s right it should be augmented, or countered, by education of better quality.
But it’s also absolutely vital that our children shouldn’t grow up believing in the fantasies that porn routinely peddles.
Those fantasies nearly all boil down to one. That people’s bodies (mostly women’s) are just playthings for other people (mostly men).
Which, when you think about it, is a form of violence.
Saying that makes me sound like an anti-porn puritan of the Mary Whitehouse variety, which I’m not. Enjoying looking at other people’s bodies is as old as art – probably millennia older.
But youngsters need guidance to approach the subject in a mature way.
Pornography is there. You can’t avoid it. So best consider it intelligently and critically.
Which is pretty much the argument I’d make in favour of religious education too, but that’s a different matter. Though not, perhaps, as different as all that.
Some have their porn, some have their god(s). Many have both. And nearly everyone has the internet these days.
If you can’t beat ’em, you don’t have to join ’em; but you can acknowledge they are there and approach them sensibly.

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