From The Editor - Porn predicament needs its own 'talking cure'

5th October 2012 at 01:00

Including the words "porn" and "children" in the same sentence usually provokes two reactions. The first is outrage. Innocence, most adults instinctively feel, should not be introduced to sleaze.

The second is resignation; the reluctant acceptance that as children grow older most will come across some kind of pornography. We know this because in all likelihood it happened to us at some point when we were kids. The collective snigger over a smutty picture has been an adolescent custom for generations. It didn't start with today's children and, let's face it, it didn't do yesterday's too much harm either.

Not that this has ever stopped perennial outbreaks of moral panic, nor attempts to finger the purveyors of suspected filth. Back in 1934, TES was asking if "cinema was a menace to morals". Young people, we were appalled to discover, were being tempted by the "unbridled sexual passion excited by amorous passages in films". Down at the Odeon, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert were giving our grandparents dangerous ideas. A generation later the culprits were comics and magazines, and after that TV.

Nowadays it's the internet. If kids want to ogle racy images they are more likely to trawl the web than hang around newsagents peeking furtively at magazines on the top shelf. Randy teenagers are seeking what randy teenagers have always sought; all that's changed is where they're looking for it, surely?

Well, actually, no. This time it really is different. Internet porn is far more pernicious than acres of Hustler and Playboy centrefolds ever were. As Chloe Combi explains, vast amounts of hardcore imagery are sexualising children in unprecedented and disturbing ways (see pages 26-30).

It's not just that there is an almost limitless amount of the stuff out there; it's also that it is so extreme and so accessible. Sexual violence is ubiquitous, as are colossal breasts and monumental penises. Men are typically dismissive, women generally submissive. And the entire seedy pantomime can be viewed by any child with a computer or smartphone. Technology has immersed children in a tidal wave of porn that earlier generations never had to swim against.

Consequently, teachers such as Chloe are encountering pupils who are highly sexualised but utterly unaware that the average body doesn't usually extend to porn-star dimensions. Girls are put under enormous pressure to consent to sex, and sexting and phone-porn bullying is rife. One male porn star is so popular among young girls that he is idolised in the same way more innocent generations feted Donny Osmond or Take That. And children from all backgrounds are exposed, not just the ones from dysfunctional homes.

What can and should teachers do? Outrage is understandable but futile: the internet cannot be unplugged. Yet pupils deserve more than a resigned shrug. The best thing teachers can do is talk. As Chloe says, explain to boys why calling women bitches isn't cool and tell girls why sending sexy snaps on their phones is a bad idea. "Because if you don't, you leave their sexuality, sexual well-being and sexual identity in the hands of the sex industry."

Adults created this mess. Children shouldn't be left to struggle through it on their own.gerard.kelly@tes.co.uk.

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