Screen Education

Sex on Screen

The rapid advance of the internet into all aspects of our lives has brought with it near-ubiquitous access to pornography, and ever younger viewers of it. While there are good reasons to be concerned about the impact this may be having on the development of young people’s sexual attitudes and self-image, CATHERINE MANNING argues that attentive, sex-positive discussion remains the best remedy.

Whether you liked it or not, you’ve no doubt been exposed to some form of online pornographic material. Inadvertently or otherwise, so have a substantial proportion of thirteen-year-olds. In the early days of the internet, the ‘expert advice’ was for parents to install a filter, and keep children’s devices in the lounge room where parents could peer over their shoulder. Unsurprisingly, and particularly since the proliferation of smart devices, that advice has proven useless, with it becoming increasingly evident that education is the only viable approach to tackling negative effects of (near-inevitable) exposure to pornography.

Research confirms that a whole-community approach is necessary to help young people navigate relationships. The Relationships and Sexuality focus area in the Australian Curriculum provides an overview of topics to be covered from Foundation to Year 10; although it does not specifically mention pornography, frank and honest discussions about it are crucial if we’re to successfully address problematic attitudes and misconceptions around gender, sex and relationships. Whether it occurs as part of a specific lesson on respectful relationships, sex education or media or as a spontaneously presented opportunity, discussing pornography openly and honestly can be one of the most important things we do as educators to help young people navigate their way into adulthood. Of course, it’s no mean feat to contend with the range of personal, religious and cultural perspectives students hold, but it’s crucial to ensure that we work within a framework that’s both legal and ethical and also free from judgement and shame. Before we can begin to facilitate meaningful and helpful conversations, we must first be prepared to consider and challenge our own attitudes and biases. Whether you enjoy pornography or not, a sex-positive attitude is necessary in order to create a safe space for students and foster healthy attitudes towards

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