‘Basically porn is everywhere’ was the title of a research paper on the effects that increased access to porn has on children. The results make stark readings for anyone with an interest in the moral and physical wellbeing of children in society. Much of what is in the report is probably quite self evident, such as the fact that ‘exposure to sexualised and violent imagery affects children and young people and there are links between violent attitudes and violent media.’ What is probably most shocking is the ease with which children are able to access pornographic material, often the result of children being inadvertently exposed to all manners of pornographic content. This issue is a modern phenomenon, largely because it is so easily accessible through the internet.
Around the same time, an Ofsted report recommended that ‘pupils should be taught about pornography in sex education classes because existing lessons are too focused on the ‘mechanics’ of reproduction.’ Rather, they argued that ‘greater emphasises should be placed on controversial issues such as sexual abuse, homosexuality and pornography to prepare children for adult life.’ The Sex Education Forum meanwhile advocates that ‘pornography be taught in terms of media literacy and representation, gender, sexual behaviour and body image.’ For the average Muslim parent, this is a horrifying prospect, yet we are told that this is not the time for a moral debate on the pros and cons of such recommendations. We should accept that it is imperative for us all to deal with the reality of a generation that is more susceptible and open to sexual exploitation because of pornography. The voices for a broadened sex education curriculum have increased, the voice of those rightly worried about its implications are muted, often dismissed as source site prudes, or conservatives unwilling to face up to modern realities
However, a moral debate is precisely what we need at this point. On the one hand, it may seem that teaching young children about the potential harms of pornography is a sensible idea. However, it doesn’t sound that sensible when we know almost next to nothing of the potential inadvertent consequences. Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust articulated this precise point: ‘to take a no hands off based approach to sex education has the potential to break down pupils’ natural sense reserve and encourage casual attitudes towards sex.’ He goes on to say that ‘if we want to view sexual intimacy as something valuable, special and worthy of respect, it needs to be addressed with modesty and restraint.’ These sentiments are well founded, given that the Sex Education Forum has staggeringly pointed teachers and providers towards a site that states that porn ‘is not all bad’ for resources.
Pornography has absolutely no place in schools, the fact that we have to teach its side effects illustrates that we have failed as a society to protect children. What we are essentially doing is treating the symptoms without addressing the source – we should be directing our efforts at the porn industry, the media, and retail and internet companies to tackle both the prevalence of highly sexualised images and to make technology safe for children. For years prudes and conservatives have warned about the increased sexualisation of children. They need only open a national newspaper and be faced with inappropriate images, or walk by a giant billboard of some celebrity with barely any clothes on, the internet is a magnified part of the problem but it is only one part and not the whole.
Besides, it is for parents to choose when, if, or how they introduce their children to a subject like this, especially given that there is little moral guidance in the planned proposals. Children have more information on the subject, but what are we telling them about the medium itself? These concerns have to be discussed and should not be put aside to drive through an decadent agenda that has pushed for the liberalisation of sex education in recent years.