Who is talking to teens about pornography? Are you? Do you have a stance on the issue? Parents are hoping that teachers are talking about this, and teachers are hoping that parents are. With parents and teachers both avoiding the P-O-R-N conversation, there is no doubt that there is a need to give kids the confidence and courage needed to draw boundaries based on their own values not those put upon them. This weeks guest blog post comes from California based educator Stephanie Ferri and is a re-post from her own blog. Stephanie writes about her experience with having conversations about pornography and considering what stance she and others might take.
You may ask yourself, why not be anti-porn? The research is there; kids are just one click away from free hardcore porn. Graphic, uncensored images of painful, aggressive, degrading sex are accessible through commonly used apps like Instagram and Snapchat. With porn sites getting more traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined one-third of young people are saying they have seen porn for the first time at age 12 or younger. If that isn’t enough to send parents home disturbed, I am not sure what is.
I spent just over 10 hours in February and March diving into what some deem the porn crisis. This included attending presentations from Clay Olsen, Cindy Pierce, and Gail Dines. I read Sex, College, & Social Media, Sexploitation, American Hookup, and Stripped all who addressed in one way or another a culture of sex and hook-ups that are negatively affected by porn and the sex industry. The message I heard was loud and clear. Our kids are growing up in a hyper-sexualized porn-driven culture where fitting in requires self-objectification to satisfy the male gaze. The worst of it, if you can imagine anything worse, is that young people don’t even realize that it’s happening.
By the end of February, I quickly got ready to take on the gamut of porn. As a human development teacher, I knew what I had to do. Shift my approach on teaching sexual development to emphasizes, love, intimacy, sex for pleasure, and address porn, nudes, and sexting out in the open. I was armed with statistics to shock students and rally them to take down the porn industry with me. I would start with 7th grade and move up to my 9th graders. I was about to pat myself on the back for the excellent work I was planning when I attended one more PD session.
This session was put on by Christopher Pepper and was titled P-O-R-N: How Can Schools Teach About It?. I entered the meeting with pride in my knowledge, and with a premature internal celebration of myself which was quickly put to a halt. I was immediately stunned. In the first slides of Christopher’s presentation, he notified the audience that he was neither pro-porn or anti-porn. Things began to click, wow, I thought to myself. In no moment of my journey did I ever think about taking a stance, I just assumed we were all anti-porn.
I listened for the next hour about approaching the topic of porn from a literacy standpoint. Porn-literacy is an approach that engages students to think about the media they consume by asking questions about its content, production, and purpose. Through the lens of literacy, students can talk openly about porn and investigate the impact on body image, gender, relationships, violence, sex and sexuality. I was introduced to numerous resources; articles, curriculum and lessons that can help teachers and parents. My eyes were opened to research that refutes some of the statistics about the addictive nature of porn. The information could not have come at a better time. Shortly after the session, I began to receive feedback from my junior, and senior students on Dr. Gail Dines presentation from the day before, and I knew how to handle it.
Working at an all-girls school is one of the best parts of my life. Twelve years ago, I would have been shocked to hear myself say this. Growing up as a product of co-ed public schools, I scoffed at single-sex education. Today, I believe in the power and magic of girls leading girls. Empowered women and a strong feminist culture are what I am surrounded by every day. So, it was no wonder why there was some push back from students after Dr. Dines’ presentation. It was hard at first to find the pulse on what exactly left student’s grumbling. The best way I can explain it was there were clashing views. Some of my students argued that acting in line with a hyper-sexualized culture (i.e., wearing revealing clothing, being a stripper, and even prostitution) was, in fact, a form of liberation, not self-objectification, or playing into the male gaze. They were upset; a woman can do what she wants with her body, right? This clashed with Dr. Dines’ point that for most sex workers and those who self-objectify, the element of choice does not really exist; having one crappy option versus another crappy option a choice. As some students became more and more hung up on this point, I decided to make a meeting to debrief and help them sort this out.
What I know from teaching girls for the past twelve years is they don’t like to be told what stance to take on an issue. Even if the position presented is backed by research and is deemed by a majority to be wrong; these students want to come to conclusions on their own. They want the facts, and they want a voice in how they feel about the matter. I was not going to let the work of Dr. Dines’ go unrecognized or unappreciated, but I realized I needed to guide these students in forming their own opinions. I received good feedback from my student debrief. Some students continued the conversation into their Gender classes and english classes. Other students began to comb through their Instagram accounts with a new self awareness of the body language and facial expressions they were using. Some continued to argue in disagreement not change their stance.
Sitting in on expert presenters and reading a handful of books does not make me an expert on the topic of porn. However, for you educators out there like me, I thought some resources, key takeaways from my work and my perspective on how to approach this topic with students could be beneficial; even if you disagree with it. What I have learned through this experience is through opposition we can learn and grow. How you use these tips will depend on who you are, where you work, and where you are in your journey through porn culture. As an educator, I am committed to learn and challenging myself and my own beliefs. Right now, I still do not have a stance on porn. I am trying to stay open to all the information and research out there. Regardless of your personal beliefs, we owe it to our students to teach them a sex ed curriculum that counteracts gender bias, addresses a culture of self-objectification, and gives students the tools to consume media in a way that promotes health and wellness.
The Anti-porn perspective can still teach you a lot.
The accessibility of porn I believe is on that is undeniable. Looking into Dr. Dines’ work on Cultured Reframed is eye-opening and worthwhile. The modules on this learning system are easy to follow, and I think a good starting point for a teacher’s own growth and development. You’ll need to sign up with your email to gain access.
Clay Olsen is the co-founder of Fight The New Drug; the new drug being porn. This resource focuses on the adverse effects of porn in three key areas; the brain, relationships, and society. The organization’s mission is to provide research for individuals to make informed decisions regarding pornography. The website has a series of videos that include celebrities and young people speaking out against porn which may be relatable to young people. The organization captures some people’s reality about the addictive nature of porn.
Truth About Porn seems like a sister resource of Fight The New Drug. This organization has a series of short video interviews from academics on how porn fuels the demand for sex trafficking. Including a video from Dr. Gail Dines herself.
A More Neutral approach.
Christopher Pepper has been teaching in San Fransisco Unified School district since 2002. He is a teacher, trainer, writer, and health ed curriculum designer — a mastermind of all things health ed in my opinion. His blog and twitters posts are ongoing and informative with a focus on Sex ed, Mental health, nutrition, and fitness. The resources he offers include lesson plans, articles, podcasts and videos that give a well-rounded approach to teaching health education.
Writers like Cindy Pierce, Ellen Friedrichs, and Lisa Damour address porn but focus on advocacy for realistic sex education that openly addresses sex, love, intimacy, and communication with young people. These resources are educational and can provide insight for designing a comprehensive and gender bias-free sex ed curriculum.
One crucial last takeaway I would like to mention is that some students as young as eleven or twelve can encounter porn, nude photos or a request for nude photos; from what I can gather no one is strongly refuting that it’s happening. From talking with my students, I hear that most often young people do not have a trusted adult to talk to; or they are too afraid. Trusted adults are not having conversations with them so, the dialogue is not happening. When thinking about approaching this topic, an excellent place to start might be to ask your students; who have ever been asked or exposed to porn? Who has ever heard of a friend or peer sending a nude? Who is someone you can talk to about this? If we are not willing to start the conversation who is?
There is no doubt that conversation regarding P-O-R-N can be difficult and I appreciate that for many health teachers it is something that they could never mention in the classroom. However, there are many educators on social media with whom you can engage in this dialogue and I encourage you to keep the conversation going online so that we can all navigate this issue more effectively.