I have been a sexuality educator for the past five years, working in high schools and alternative educational settings. During this time, there has been growing concern amongst parents, teachers and those working in student services about the trending sexual beliefs, attitudes and behaviour of our children and young people, and the potentially negative influence of sexually explicit material. Do we have a real and present danger? Or is it all just media hype inciting moral panic? What does academic research have to say?
Pornography is difficult to define and has an element of subjectivity based on cultural, ethical and moral frameworks. Its definition and classification has changed over time and are of contentious debate of and within themselves. One definition suggests that “pornography refers to any written, visual or spoken material depicting sexual activity or genital exposure that is intended to be sexually arousing”. It is often used synonymously with the term ‘sexually explicit material’, (SEM) as I have in this article.
There is no doubt that Australia, along with many other countries around the world, is seeing an exponential rise in the consumption of pornography amongst increasingly younger populations. Family Safe Media (2015) estimates that 90% of 8-16 year olds have viewed pornography online. Unsurprising, given that 95% of Australian students have regular internet access through computers and 85% through mobile phones, and the number of websites devoted to this industry is burgeoning, with current estimates at 12% of the gross total. Furthermore, 85% of Australian young people report using the internet as a form of sexual education, with 64% citing pornography specifically. With a reported 10% of students stating not having received ANY formal sexual education, and current practices often falling short of recommended content, especially in where pleasure and intimacy are concerned, be it directed or unintentional, there is no escaping the fact that the vast majority of our young people are going to be exposed.
I believe it is a unique time in human history. Never before have we seen such a confluence of societal and cultural forces with the power to affect the majority of our young people in ways we are only just beginning to realise, and are probably yet to imagine. The digital age has ‘let the (pornographic) cat out of the bag’. It isn’t just about finding your Dad’s Playboy at the back of the shed anymore. It is about our young people having the ability to access a plethora of pornographic images, including, (and perhaps most disturbingly), those described as ‘hard core’, based in fetishism, or depicting violence, at the touch of button, potentially before even having their first kiss. It is a ‘perfect storm’ in every sense of the word, with myriad forces all playing their part in a wider phenomenon, both frightening and fascinating at the same time. Will there be casualties? Or will it all prove to be a storm in a teacup? The answer is more than likely both depending on the individual and their specific set of life circumstances. Either way, it is obvious that it is time to ‘fight fire with fire’ and start to seriously and candidly educate on the ‘hot topics’ that our young people, parents and adults need to know about, specifically pornography.
Christina Self has worked in community and corporate health service delivery for more than 15 years as an Exercise Physiologist, Personal Trainer, Corporate Health Consultant, Youth Health Program Manager, Sexuality Educator and CPR Trainer. She is currently studying a Graduate Diploma in Sexology at Curtin University and is a member of the Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia (YACWA), Society of Australian Sexologists (SAS) and the Australian Association for Adolescent Health (AAAH). She can be contacted via email – [email protected]