Free pornography as a sexual educator: recipe for a defective sexuality

Free pornography as a sexual educator: recipe for a defective sexuality

I’m looking for the best pornography possible.

In 2019, PornHub received 115 million visits per day, that is more than one and a half times the population of France every 24 hours. In 2019 alone, 6.83 million new videos were put online: every 9 minutes, 24 hours of porn, a total of 169 years of new pornographic content uploaded that year.

The French are no exception: in 2015, France was the fifth country with the most daily visits to PornHub. However, according to PornHub, no minors visited the platform in 2019. Intuitively, we know this is not true. In France, 60% of minors have viewed pornographic content; some of them were under 11 years old when that happened for the first time. On average, French minors access pornography between the ages of 14 and 15. This global trend has led UNESCO to alert that pornography may be “the first exposure to sexuality or sexuality education for many children and young people”.

(Pre)adolescents visit pornographic sites. At an age when they search for themselves and discover their sexuality [1], the Internet is an endless source of information. 96% of minors access pornography via free sites and one in two believes that it has contributed to their education about sexuality. The reality most likely goes beyond their estimates.

None of this is surprising. We live in a sexualised world and, through television, music, literature or video games, children and adolescents know that adults enjoy sex. When they want to know more, the overwhelming majority of them visit free pornography sites and 1 in 4 admit trying to imitate with their partner what they have seen online.

The path taken by the French Government in 2019 towards limiting minors’ access to pornography by means of technological and parental measures is facing technical difficulties that could lead this laudable attempt to failure, as it happened in the United Kingdom. Commitments to better sexual education for minors are insufficient to address the concerns of the ones at the centre of these public policies: the minors themselves. They consult pornography sites because the questions they have about sexuality remain unanswered.

Since formal education does not currently answer young people’s questions to the extent they expect, sex education takes place via the Internet and, in particular, through so-called conventional pornography, which is far from being conventional. What is its content?

Quick experiment: I write “porn” on Google’s search engine and click on the first of the 2,370,000,000 options: PornHub. The lack of age verification to access all the free content hits me first. Then the shock continues. Among the popular French-language porn videos shown on the home page, there is one called “abused schoolgirl”, and sexual violence continues in what PorhnHub calls current trends [2]. PornHub’s predefined categories show racialized stereotypes (Japanese, Black or Russian), group sex (gangbang, orgies, threesomes) and practices such as double penetration, hard sex and bukkake. There is not a single condom in sight. In addition to the categories proposed by PornHub, the titles of the videos and their excerpts are alarming: they trivialize insults to women, incest and sexual violence. What impact does all this have on a minor?

Pornography is not going to disappear and this should rather lead us to design public policies based on its ubiquity. The measures envisaged to prevent access by minors may not be quickly put in place and, cumulatively, may not be able to block access by all minors to the pornographic content they seek. Are they (and are we) sufficiently aware of the existence of alternative pornography? Parallel to the implementation of blocking mechanisms, should we not consider responding to minors’ legitimate doubts, in educational centres or within the family, awakening them to the ethical use of pornography?

The pornography we consume has a direct influence on the creation of a specific sexual imaginary. This is particularly true for children and adolescents: without a real experience or sexual education that meets their expectations, pornography has a formative character for them [3]. The brain is an extremely plastic organ: it processes information in real time to confirm or modify what it has learned before [4]. The fact that young people educated by mainstream pornography emulate, in their own sexual relationships, what they have learned there is not without consequences. If we want adolescents and young adults to initiate a healthy sexuality, we need to offer them alternative examples and give them the tools they need to be able to choose the kind of pornography they want to watch.

Conventional and accessible pornography is stereotyped by gender, skin colour and origin. It focuses on male pleasure [5] and penetration, despite the fact that only a minority of women achieve climax through this alone. Men are verbally and physically aggressive, but women are silent and always complacent. Without any communication, mutual respect and pleasure play only a very limited role.

Mainstream pornography promotes risky sexual behaviour, racialized and sexist stereotypes and misconceptions about pleasure. We need to give minors the ability to distinguish what is healthy and real from what is not. We need to move beyond sex education focusing on STIs and contraception in order to focus the prevention of sexual violence on the pursuit of pleasure, both individual and shared. While consent and respect – for oneself and others – must be at the centre of sexuality education, it must take into account the presence of pornography in the lives of minors. This implies countering the trivialization of sexual violence by learning about sexual relations where participants discuss what gives them pleasure and also what they do not want to do. The consumption of pornography can (and must) also be responsible: we must shed light on ethical pornography.

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[1] I use the definition of “sexuality” coined by the OMS in its International technical guidance on sexuality education: an evidence-informed approach: « “sexuality” may thus be understood as a core dimension of being human which includes: the understanding of, and relationship to, the human body; emotional attachment and love; sex; gender; gender identity; sexual orientation; sexual intimacy; pleasure and reproduction. Sexuality is complex and includes biological, social, psychological, spiritual, religious, political, legal, historic, ethical and cultural dimensions that evolve over a lifespan ». Available here:

https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/technical-guidance-sexuality-education/es/

[2] Where I find videos called « a hurting anal trial », « hot slut abused in rough threesome » and « Stranded Canadian tricks hot blonde into sex ».

[3] Brage, L., Orte, C. and Gordaliza, R., Balearic Islands University (2019). Nueva pornografía y cambios en las relaciones interpersonales de adolescentes y jóvenes (New pornography and changes in interpersonal relations of the young and adolescent).

[4] Doctor Simone Kühn, Neuroscientist and Psychologist, Max Planck Institute for Human Development (her interview can be found here: https://vimeo.com/190633253). Doctor Mary Anne Layden, Ph.D. Psychotherapist and Educative Director at the Center for Cognitive Therapy at the University of Pennsylvania (her interview can be found here: https://vimeo.com/190319216).

You can also read Rachel Ann Barr’s report on BBC (in Spanish): https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-50837044

[5] It carries an androcentric vision of sex, even in scenes between women.

Picture: Thank you, Retha Ferguson (Pexels).

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2 Replies to “Free pornography as a sexual educator: recipe for a defective sexuality”

  1. Very well written and so hauntingly real. It made me think about a recent controversy in India related to a highly offensive WhatsApp group called “Bois locker room” run by high school boys in Delhi.

    1. Indeed, offensive content is in many cases sent and received via WhatsApp. I think it comes from the fact that a lot of content out there banalizes being violent towards another and humiliating them sexually, which then blurs the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior for many other things. I am very happy to get insights from India, thank you for your comment!

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