Porn too easy to access

12th September 2008 at 01:00
Internet pornography is damaging young men by giving them unrealistic ideas about sexual relationships

Easy access to internet porn is distorting teenage boys' perceptions of women and leading to "huge misunderstandings" about the female anatomy.

The warning, delivered at a conference in Edinburgh this week on sexual health, was accompanied by an estimate that more than 50 per cent of all boys under 18 use the internet to look at pornography.

"I was quite surprised the widely-quoted figure of 50 per cent was so small when you think of the raging hormones of a 15, 16 or 17-year-old. Why would they not access internet sites as a masturbatory aid? In the past, teenagers used magazines - the internet is cheaper," said David Johnson, the director of Waverley Care, an HIV charity.

Little could be done to stop teens with "raging hormones" accessing such sites, he warned. But pornography sites could be used to deliver positive messages about condom use.

The conference, run by the charity Caledonia Youth, heard that pornography was damaging young males by giving them unrealistic expectations of sexual relationships which they struggled to translate into real life. The debate coincided with Government approval for the creation of sexual health drop- in centres in or near all rural secondary schools in Scotland, in line with recommendations from the Government's National Sexual Health Advisory Committee.

Subject to local consultation and headteacher approval, pupils under 16 could have increased access to contraceptives and pregnancy tests, but not emergency contraception such as the "morning-after" pill, said a spokeswoman for the Government.

Research by the committee found that access to health services in rural areas was "challenging" and that Dumfries and Galloway had the highest rate of chlamydia among under-25s. The same authority also had the second- highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Scotland among 13 to 15-year- olds.

Hawys Kilday, chief executive of Caledonia Youth, offered a word of caution, however. "No matter what the clinic, wherever it is, the important thing is who is delivering the service. If it is not young people-friendly, it's not going to work. The other thing youngsters need to know is whether it is confidential. In a school, they might be put off if other people walking past in the corridor could see them accessing the service."

The conference, Young Voices - Strong Words, was held by Caledonia Youth to celebrate "40 years as a charity delivering innovative sexual health and relationship services for young people in Scotland".

Delegates, ranging from MSPs and charity bosses to school pupils and members of the Scottish Youth Parliament, tackled questions such as why Scotland has such a poor sexual-health record and why Scots tend to be less able to talk about sex than other Europeans.

There was a general consensus that sex education in schools should not be delivered exclusively by teachers, as they do not have the "kudos" or "credibility" of youth workers. Delegates also agreed that relationship education should start from primary age.

"Sometimes it works when outside agencies deliver sex education sessions, because they are not part of the school establishment and it's a little less scary for pupils to engage and interact - but it's a resource issue," said Ms Kilday.

Firrhill High pupils Craig Gilroy, 15, and Merissa Gardiner, 16, felt that peer pressure and drinking were to blame for Scotland's poor sexual-health record. "Everyone drinks alcohol and then does it," said Craig.

Relationship education was needed in schools from P1, argued Lois Jandoo, 16. "Five-year-olds have boyfriends and girlfriends because they are copying the images around them. They need a curriculum that helps with that," she said.

Mr Johnson argued there was no "ideal age" for delivering sex education and that it should be "on the agenda from day one" in families.

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