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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Maybe We Should Teach Teenagers About Pornography

The Daily Mail (or Daily Fail, as I prefer to call it), printed a website article on Sunday 28th April, from the twisted and demented mind of national bigot and infamous tabloid hack Melanie Phillips - an individual, who is always up-in-arms over something or other. The article - which you can read  here  was commenting on an idea that is currently being discussed, over whether it is right or not to teach teenagers (children in UK High Schools, aged 14 and over) about pornography.

In typical Daily Fail fashion, Phillips was decrying how a nation such as ours could even contemplate teaching teenagers about pornography. To her, that is akin to teaching our youngsters how to smoke cocaine, or how to make a sophisticated nail-bomb. But then, everything in the world of the Daily Fail has to involve protecting kids from anything, everything, that is remotely harmful, even at the expense of sensible adult freedoms.

In the world of Melanie Phillips, all kids would be wrapped-up in cotton wool, from birth until the age of 18, locked in a room at their parents home, and be force-fed nothing more than passages from the Bible, water and gruel, and parents would be forced to teach kids that the world is a horrific, dangerous place in which every adult (and child) has to be feared, less they knife you to death, or attempt to groom you for some hidden, underground paedophile ring, where you'd be passed around a group of 20 or 30 Islamic men, like a plate of naked-and-bound after-dinner mints. They'd then be turfed out of the parental home at 18, and be told to get a job, and don't come back until you're a fully-fledged and mature adult.

Clearly, this is not the real world, but it is the one that Ms Phillips inhabits.

Anyone in the UK who has ever witnessed one of her "performances" on BBC1's political discussion show QUESTION TIME, will know exactly what I mean. This is a woman who, in 2011, won gay-right's charity Stonewall's infamous Bigot Of The Year Award, for claiming that by teachers and educational establishments teaching children about gay men and women, was akin to "the UK government brainwashing children", an "abuse of childhood", and part of a "ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very ­concept of normal sexual behaviour". She really is as bigoted and abhorrent as those words sound.

Anyway, I digress.

We all know about pornography. Most of us, irrespective of our gender, have discovered it by our teens. Some of us discovered it earlier, whether it be a picture of a topless woman or naked man in a pornographic magazine, or from a sex scene in a Hollywood film, most of us discover sex and pornography at a fairly early stage in our lives. And whilst sex, nudity and pornography are not the same things, they are all linked. One, in general, cannot exist without the others.

Now not all pornography is the same. That goes without saying. There is pornography, and then there's pornography! What seems to get Phillips up-in-arms is even the remotest concept that teachers even mention this dreaded word, let alone attempt to teach and educate teenagers about it. Considering the UK has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the Western World, as shown by a 2001 UNICEF Survey discussed  here  on Wikipedia, the whole issue of pornography and sex education needs a radical overhaul. We can no longer keep denying kids from proper sex education, as the rates of teen pregnancy continue to grow, and then complain about it afterwards. There appears to be a direct causal link between pregnancy rates amongst teenagers and the lack of a decent sex education.

If we want teenagers to stop having sex so young, and to stop young teenage girls from getting pregnant, then we need to start having better, more detailed, and possibly more explicit sex-ed.

But back to the porn. Teenagers and kids (over the age of 8 or 9) are accessing porn. This can be in various methods, though a lot of articles and newspaper stories seem to imply that it's mostly done online, either via the Internet, or Internet-connected Smartphones. (And that's another bugbear of mine: what kind of young kid needs the likes of an iPhone or a Blackberry, for goodness sake?! Usually ones whose parents can't say "no" to their own offspring! However, that's another issue for another time.) Porn isn't all bad, but it does depend on what kind of porn you are accessing. There's also different kinds of porn: still images, animations, video clips, and full-length movies. I would argue that seeing a still image or picture of someone performing a sexual act, is less likely to disturb a young teenager, than a 90-minute DVD movie might do, in which you can watch in unedited, real-time the same act. This is obviously dependant on the teenager themselves, the detail of the activity in the image or film sequence, and their own maturity or lack thereof!

However, no one here - and especially Melanie Phillips - has attempted to define what we are going to label as pornography. Is pornography a picture of a topless women on Page 3 of THE SUN newspaper? Is it a glossy, airbrushed photo of a full-length nude in PLAYBOY? Is pornography the sex scene at the beginning of the film BASIC INSTINCT (1990, Paul Verhoeven)? Or is the hardcore clip of a couple in a non-consensual, BDSM-infused scene viewed on the Net?

Depending on who you speak too, will depend on the answer you get. Pornography is a picture or moving image that is designed to create a feeling of sexual arousal in the viewer. Well, to be fair, that covers a wide spectrum of stuff. And in this day-and-age of numerous sexual proclivities, be it BDSM, bondage, plushies, cock-and-ball-torture, sensory-deprivation, leather, lace, dog-collars, whipping, or genital mutilation, that's a large gamut of proclivities that could potentially be arousing to someone, somewhere. If you start thinking of all of the non-sexual stuff that people "get-off" on, then you can include things as wide-ranging as the smell of freshly baked bread, rubber clothing, feathers, lace, cutlery, sticky foods, and a million other potential items. In essence, what might turn on one person may be wholly unsexually stimulating to another. It's horses-for-courses, as they say. You'd be surprised about what objects can turn the human mind and body on! And it's not restricted to just the obvious things either!

With that said, why should we not teach teenagers about porn? Why should we not explain that this stuff exists, that it comes in a variety of different sorts and strengths? That some porn can be acceptable to the masses, whilst other porn may not? That porn can be both consensual and non-consensual? That it can be aimed at men, women, gay, straight, bisexual, or transgendered people? That porn can cover everything from a simple basic sex scene to a full-on, extremely brutal BDSM session?

Clearly, I'm not advocating that we start teaching kids about extreme porn, but I do think that we need to be more open-minded as a society. If we want our youngsters to be able to cope adequately with sex and sex within loving relationships, then we need to arm them with all of the knowledge that they may need. That doesn't mean just teaching them about the (rather useless) "birds and bees". It doesn't mean just teaching them the names of parts of the human sexual reproductive system. It means educating them on all aspects of what sex, love and romance entails. Giving them a full, rounded and as complete a knowledge as we possibly can, so that they can make informed choices. And yes, that may include discussing about pornography.

What's better: a child seeing porn by accident, and not being able to comprehend what it is they've just seen, or arming that same child so that when they see something, they are then free to be able to say "Actually, I don't want to see that" or "I know what that video clip was, and I can contextualise it"?

I certainly know what I'd prefer for our kids. Knowledge!

Despite what Melanie Phillips, and the minions at the Daily Fail seem to think, not all porn is bad. It isn't. Porn can be nice. Porn can be consensual, and erotic, and arousing, and useful. Porn can play a small part in a loving, consensual relationship. Porn can be fun, for both sexes. But there is also the other side of porn: the darker, edgier, more explicit and brutal side. The stuff that can be found online, in the darker recesses of the Internet, with clips taken out of context. With material that doesn't contextualise anything. It just shows you something, and portrays something brutal and shocking, with no frame-of-reference in which to place it.

Phillips acknowledges that:
Accordingly, this publication warns that the sex and bodies in pornography ‘are mostly unrealistic’, and that such material may involve coercing participants into performing sex acts. But it also suggests showing such images to children at age 14. Moreover, it states they might find some of the positions in such porn films ‘helpful’, while being made aware that ‘the so-called pleasure’ they see ‘may be anything but’.
How can informing teenagers that sometimes what you see in porn, is not what it at first might seem, a bad thing? Is this not teaching our kids to be media-savvy? Does that not count as educating our youth against the likes of say, advertising, whose sole purpose is to get you to buy stuff that you think you need, in order to be more intelligent, more valued, more attractive, and more desirable? Considering the media-and-tech-obsessed world in which we all now live, we need more media education not less.

Porn can appear to teach you that unless men have a 9-inch penis and a 6-pack for a stomach, or that unless women are blonde, shaved and have 42DD breasts, that you are all forever inadequate, unattractive, and therefore, undesirable as a mate. That no one will ever "want" or "desire" you, because you are not like the people that appear in porn. The fact that you haven't been airbrushed to within an inch of your life, may make you feel like you aren't perfect. Therefore you are inferior, lesser, worth less to society as a whole. It can also implicitly suggest that unless you do these kinds of acts, no one will want to be in a relationship with you, or worse still, that unless you do these acts, you are not a real man or real woman: that only real, decent people who are good, do these acts, and if you don't, then by extension, you aren't a good person either.

That's a form of coercion: the very thing that many (though not all) teenage boys can/have/do use to their teenage girlfriends, in order to get these young woman to have sex or perform sexual acts with them. The boy says something along the lines of "well, if you were really my girlfriend, you'd suck me off" or "a real girlfriend would let me have anal sex, because then she'd be showing me that she really loved me". Of course, that's all complete bullshit. That's NOT what a real boyfriend or girlfriend should do at all. In a real, genuine and loving relationship, people are equal. Neither partner forces or coerces the other into doing anything they don't really want to do. Real lovers ask, and if the other partner says "No", then that's the end of the story.Consensuality is the key word here.

That's what we should be teaching our youngsters: that porn isn't real. It's an artificially-created world, made mostly by adult men, mostly for the benefit and pleasure of other adult men. I know there are female porn writers and directors out there, such as Anna Span, Erika Lust and the like, who do make porn from a more female-centric point of view, or even films aimed at both men and women, but which focus less on the explicit, gynaecologically-detailed sex acts that feature in many mainstream (and non-mainstream) male-directed or male-authored pornography, and try to make the porn more about a loving, sensual relationship, where both parties are equally catered to and catered for, and are consenting and consensual participants. There's none of the angry and more demeaning and animalistic tone that is par-for-the-course in male-dominated porn, where the woman is usually compliant and the man the dominant.

We have to accept that kids will sometimes see stuff that we as adults or parents don't want them too. It's inevitable. Kids are curious. They have an innate thirst to know about things. Whether that be sexual stuff, or violent stuff, or stuff about drugs or death or medicine. As adults, we will never stop kids from not seeing something that we'd rather they hadn't. What we do need to do, though, is stop treating sex education and porn, as dirty subjects that can't be discussed and talked about, because we adults are too damn prudish.

Britain is quite a prudish nation.

Unlike some of our European counterparts, we Brits still don't like talking about, seeing or even thinking about sex, in any manner. It's a subject many seem to prefer to just wish it never existed. As such, I think that's why our Sex Education is so piss-poor in schools, and why our government's Education Minister (Michael Gove) is intent on coming-up with a new plan every single day, to constantly erode our kids education system. But that's not the issue under discussion.

When Phillips says:
But it is never safe to subject a child to pornography. At 14, a child is not mature enough to handle all the implications of healthy sexuality, let alone its perversions.
...she is deliberately skewering her argument: that all pornography is evil, and all aspects of sexuality are perverse. What a witch! Most sensible, and rational-adults know only too well, that sexuality does not need to be perverse. And a healthy sexual life, does not need to mean restricting yourself to just the "missionary position". Since when does sex equate to perversity? And since when are all 14-year-old's exactly the same, in terms of their maturity and intelligence? I've seen sophisticated and mature 12-year-old's, and incredibly immature and unintelligent 40-year-old's. Not everyone is the same. The only genuinely perverse thing I can see, is Ms Phillips's own argument. She is debasing all aspects of human sexuality, through her choice of words. She is demonising any adult who happens to enjoy a "healthy" sex life, because - in her view - a "healthy" sex life, is abhorrent in and of itself. How dare you enjoy sex! How dare you take the most natural act that humans can participate in, and have fun with it!

She goes on:
Among these "sexperts", there is a shocking confusion between adults and children. Exposing children in this way is to treat them wholly inappropriately as quasi-adults, supposedly able to apply adult values and considerations to behaviour which would trouble many adults themselves.
Except that the "sexperts" (as Phillips insists on calling these people) aren't confusing anything. A 14-year-old is a teenager. A teenager is a quasi-adult, albeit a young quasi-adult. And yes, we do teach teenagers to start applying adult values and considerations to their behaviours, because as parents/adults, we expect that as our kids grow up, they start to learn things such as that all actions have consequences, learning to abide by rules and laws, or that sometimes "no" means "no". We also want them to start becoming responsible young adults. We give them more and more leniency, and in return, if they behave responsibly, they are given more freedoms - just like the freedoms you have as a responsible adult.

So why has Phillips got such a bee in her bonnet, over something that, at face-value, actually seems pretty sensible?

Is it because she's like many of these idiotic adults that exist in the worlds of journalism and government, that we should all be teaching our kids nothing more than the infamous Three R's - which for my non-UK fans - is a horribly misguided acronym referring to teaching Reading, Writing and Arithmetic? (The fact that two out of the three "R's" don't even start with the letter "R" seems to have been forgotten in the creation of this silly concept, which actually arose from an article in a magazine published way back in 1818, according to Wikipedia, and stemmed from a speech made by Tory Education Minister, Sir William Curtis, in 1795.) Or is it because, Ms Phillips, and by definition, the Daily Fail also hates the idea of pornography becoming normalised, and by damning it at every opportunity, she feels that porn will just somehow magically disappear?

Whether we like it or not, pornography exists.

It's existed for thousands of years, and depending on which area of history you look at, stems right back to the 1100's in Japan, to the 1700's in France, or possibly even the Roman times! Whilst I am absolutely not suggesting that kids be given pornography to view, we do have to accept that kids are seeking it out. As such, the old adage that forewarned is forearmed does seem to apply here, and is pertinent. I'd rather kids be told about the existence of porn, of what it entails, of how it is created, by whom and for what purposes, so that when they do eventually see it, they aren't so shocked and disturbed by it.

Just as all of us who grew-up watching horror films, we steadily built up a tolerance threshold. You don't go jumping in with THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (2011, Tom Six) or SNUFF 102 (2007, Mariano Peralto), as the extreme nature of these works would be so shocking to us, that it would probably scar us forever more!

Pornography doesn't have to be seen as "the enemy", just like horror films don't need to be. Porn can be a pleasure, and doesn't have to involve demeaning or cruelty to anyone. In fact, horror films can be cathartic for many people, too. For me, growing up, I used horror films as a way to imagine that the people being killed on-screen, where the people who were making my life miserable and hard. I imagined that it was they who were being murdered and mutilated, and that gave me relief that I could get past whatever was troubling me. As I grew up, I still watched horror films but of a stronger nature. I wanted to be scared and shocked, but in a safe manner under which I had full control over. Unlike, say, a fairground rollercoaster ride, once you're on-board, you can't get off until the ride ends. Watching films let me take the risk at a pace I felt comfortable with, and at any point, I could leave the cinema screen or stop the DVD, if I so wished.

So, as we near the end of this article, what result do we end up with? When Melanie Phillips says:
In any event, children almost instinctively filter out from their minds much information that is too grown-up for them to understand. No chance of that, however, in many of today’s sex education lessons and teaching materials which introduce even pre-pubescent children to the full range of sexual practices, positions and perversions.
.. we have to assume that in her eyes, all human sexuality is evil, and therefore, all human sexuality must be eradicated, because it is evil.

Actually, no, that's not what should happen. Times change. What I learned when I was a child about sex, will be different to what my parents learnt, which in turn will be different to what young-teens learn today, in the 21st Century. Practices evolve. Education evolves. Children evolve. The Human Race also evolves. Through evolution, sometimes we need to evolve the manner in which we educate future generations. And if that evolution helps the next generation learn, then maybe we shouldn't be in such a haste to condemn it.

Thank You for reading.

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