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Why we need to talk to young people about pornography

For #SHW23, we’re Playing It Safe. In this blog, Brook Education and Wellbeing Specialist, Katie Cicco explains why teaching young people about pornography helps to keep them safe. 

In the digital age, access to explicit content has become increasingly prevalent, making it more crucial than ever to engage in open and informed discussions about pornography with young people.

While the topic may seem uncomfortable for some, addressing it early on can play a significant role in fostering healthy attitudes, developing critical thinking skills, and keeping young people safe.  

Many young people stumble upon explicit content unintentionally, often without fully understanding what they are viewing.

Engaging in open conversations about pornography means adults can explain its explicit nature and the potential risks associated with its consumption. It’s important to explain to young people that pornography is not true to life. Its purpose is to provide entertainment and to evoke pleasure. It often presents unrealistic portrayals of sexual experiences, which can lead to misconceptions and skewed expectations about intimacy. This can lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction in real life relationships. It can also contribute to the objectification and sexualisation of women and girls, which can have serious implications for their mental and physical health. 

Talking to young people about pornography allows us to provide them with balanced perspectives on sexuality. By discussing the differences between fiction and reality, we can help young people develop healthier attitudes towards sex, relationships, and consent. 

Pornography can also sometimes have adverse effects on emotional and mental health, leading to feelings of shame, guilt, and confusion. It can expose young people to unrealistic, distorted, and often violent images of sex that can influence their attitudes, expectations, and behaviours around gender roles, consent, and intimacy. It can also affect their self-esteem and body image.  

By creating a safe space for open dialogue, we can support young people in processing their feelings and understanding that it is normal to experience a range of emotions related to sexual content. Moreover, this conversation can help identify any potential issues early on and encourage them to seek help if necessary. 

Engaging in conversations about pornography provides an important opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and media literacy.

Young people can learn to question the intentions behind explicit content, understand the potential manipulation tactics used, and analyse the impact of such content on their lives. This media literacy empowers them to make conscious decisions when consuming online content. 

Discussing pornography can also be a great time to address the crucial topic of consent. By explaining that the scenarios portrayed in pornography often do not reflect real-life consensual interactions, young people can gain a deeper understanding of the importance of respecting boundaries and communication in any intimate relationship. 

Openly talking about pornography provides an opportunity to discuss healthy relationships in general. By promoting open communication, mutual respect, and empathy, we can equip young people with the tools they need to form positive connections with others and avoid toxic relationship patterns. 

We need to recognise that it is normal for young people to be curious about sex, which may lead them to actively seek out pornography to satisfy their curiosity and explore their evolving sexual feelings. Equally, they may have stumbled across it by accident. Whatever the reason, educating them around pornography means we can help them learn how to recognise and avoid harmful or inappropriate content they may come across online. This will also mean they are better equipped to seek help and support if they see something upsetting or confusing, or feel they are developing an unhealthy relationship with pornography.  

It is important to remember that having conversations about pornography with young people is not about encouraging or condoning its use.

Instead, it is about providing them with the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the digital world responsibly.  

By providing accurate information, promoting critical thinking, and fostering open discussions, we can empower young individuals to make informed choices, develop healthy attitudes towards sex and relationships, and safeguard their emotional wellbeing. As parents, educators, and guardians, it is our responsibility to engage in these essential conversations and ensure the well-rounded development of the next generation. 

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