We Need to Teach Kids the Difference Between Porn and Real Life Sex
sex education

WE NEED TO TEACH KIDS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PORN AND REAL LIFE SEX

Information about sex is both easy and hard to come by for today’s young people. In schools, conversations about sexual health are uncommon and often incomplete, with less than half of states mandating accurate, medically-based sex ed. At the same time, kids have more access to images of sexual acts than ever before. Anyone with an Internet connection can access porn—whether they want to or not. The result of this information misbalance is that more and more of today’s young people are getting their sex ed from porn.

On Sex Ed with DB, an intersectional feminist podcast trying to revolutionize the way we talk about sex, we bring our listeners shame-free conversations about sex, health, and bodies—something that many young people don’t get from their state-sponsored sex ed classes. As I listened to our upcoming episodes about pleasure, body image, pregnancy, and yes, porn, I was surprised by how often that last subject came up—and how influential it was on young people’s perceptions of sex.

SEX ED IN AMERICA TODAY

This makes sense when you look at the dire state of sex ed in America. Only 24 states and Washington D.C. require schools to teach sexual education—and only 13 of those states require the sex ed to be “medically accurate.” In contrast, 26 states require that sex ed stress abstinence, and our current federal government supports abstinence only programs, which have shown to be ineffective. There is no evidence that abstinence programs keep kids from having sex, and teens who receive such education are less likely to use protection when they inevitably have sex. Meanwhile, comprehensive sex ed has been shown to delay the age at which teens start engaging in sexual activity and reduce risky sexual behaviors.

Clearly, another flaw of abstinence only education is that it doesn’t satisfy students’ curiosity about sex and their bodies. Era Steinfeld, a podcast guest who works with high school peer educators discussing dating violence prevention, said that when they first watched porn “It wasn’t necessarily for the eroticism of it, it was for the learning of . . . how and why sex can be fun.” Many young people share Era’s experience: porn viewership is common (one study reports that 93 percent of male and 62 percent of female college students had seen online porn before age 18) and happening at younger ages than parents may realize (experts believe that the average age when kids first see porn is around 13 for boys and around 14 for girls).

DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN PORN AND REAL LIFE EXPERIENCES

Adults can distinguish between what they see in porn and their lived sexual experiences, but the same is not true for kids who receive minimal information about sex from their parents and schools. When these young people turn to porn to learn, they lack the knowledge and experience necessary to recognize that porn is entertainment, not education. Learning about sex from porn has an impact on their sexual behaviors: studies suggest that young people replicate the sexual acts they view in porn. According to Cindy Gallop, another podcast guest and the founder of Make Love Not Porn, those behaviors continue into adulthood. Cindy was motivated to start her social sex platform, where members can share real life sexual content, after she realized that there was a generation of men who had learned how to have sex from porn, much to their female partners’ chagrin.

This phenomenon is particularly concerning when you consider how it impacts young people’s early sexual interactions. Said 17-year-old Sonya Lustig, one of Era’s former students, “In my experience porn has had an extremely significant impact on the normalization of sexual aggression and violence against women. My male friends became desensitized to serious topics, such as prostitution and rape, as young as 12 and 13 after being exposed to videos that fetishize the objectification of women.” Sonya is on to something. In fact, studies show correlations between early porn exposure and regressive ideas about sex and gender roles. A recent literature review of 20 years of research on teens and porn found that adolescent porn use was associated with negative views of gender equality, stronger notions of women as sex objects, and stereotypical beliefs about the proper balance of power in sexual relationships.

PROVIDING SEX EDUCATION FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

All of this doesn’t mean that we should ban all porn. Rather, we need to equip young people with the tools to distinguish between porn and real life sexual interactions. (As Cindy Gallop says, “We’re pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-knowing the difference!”) Ideally, all students would receive comprehensive and inclusive sex and relationship education. Model programs start when children are young and integrate age-appropriate conversations into school curriculum about relationships, bodies, development, consent, sexual health, sexual orientation, and gender identity. But until such programs become the law of the land, sex educators are taking it upon themselves to provide online videos that actually educate their viewers about sex. Make Love Not Porn is one. Another platform is O.School, which provides pleasure-focused daily live streams on all the topics that should have been covered in sex ed. (O.School is also one of the sponsors of Sex Ed with DB.) Such platforms make it easier for each of us to do something to help young people navigate healthy sex lives: have open, honest, and shame-free conversations about human sexuality.

Season 2 of Sex Ed with DB airs Wednesdays beginning May 16th. Check out Sex Ed with DB wherever you get your podcasts, and connect online at sexedwithdb.com, on Facebook.com/edwithdb, on Instagram @sexedwithdbpodcast, and on Twitter.com/SexEdwithDB. 

Featured image by Charles Deluvio
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2 Responses to “WE NEED TO TEACH KIDS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PORN AND REAL LIFE SEX”

Rebecca

May 30, 2018 5:00 am

Oh my word yes! Health and sex Ed in amarica need to change!! This is my passion, I wish I knew what else to do about it.

Reply

Kait

May 31, 2018 7:17 pm

Depending on where you’re located, there may be opportunities to volunteer with Planned Parenthood doing outreach to youth and/or their parents.

In your own life, just keep being the safe person for friends, etc. It makes a big difference!

Reply

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