Whose message do we want our kids to hear? Ours or the porn industry's?

Whose message do we want our kids to hear? Ours or the porn industry's? Photo: Getty Images

Do you remember where you first learned about sex?

For me, it was Dolly magazine and a good dose of idle, uninformed schoolyard gossip. For lots of boys I knew, it was the magazines and videos handed down from someone’s older brother – often still in the crumpled brown paper bag they were packed in at the shop.

Pornography has always had a role in our society, and certainly in the sex education of our young people, but a lot has changed in the past 20 years. This is largely due to a huge technological leap. The UK Government has taken this so seriously, it is in the process of blocking all internet pornography, making it necessary to apply to opt-in if you want to access it from your home.

An Australian study of the way teens use the internet found 93 per cent of male 13 to 16 year olds and 62 per cent of females of the same age have seen pornography online.

Maree Crabbe is joint leader of a program called Reality and Risk which has studied the effects of pornography on the sexuality of young people. She told ABC Radio’s Life Matters program there are two major differences between the magazines we looked at as teens and the material our children are accessing:

  1. Porn is incredibly accessible from our own homes, in our teens’ bedrooms or on their smart phones. And the images are free and anonymous. 
  2. The material is different in nature. We are no longer talking about a suggestive centrefold. The videos our teens are accessing is highly explicit, and contains hard core sexual acts that are often very aggressive towards women.

This change in nature of porn is both sinister and alarming. Anyone with a smart phone or digital camera can make their own video and upload it the same day. This has led to thousands of producers in a largely unregulated industry, all jostling for attention.

The result is a form of pornography which has become more aggressive, more outrageous, more dangerous in order to be noticed. Explicit pornography has become the norm on the internet. It is known as gonzo porn, and it is directly affecting the sexuality of our kids.

Gonzo porn has three signature moves: heterosexual anal sex, ejaculation on faces and bodies, and deep throating (fellatio that is very deep and can induce gagging).

Crabbe described young men she interviewed talking about becoming conditioned by viewing these videos. “It’s common for young men to think , ‘Well, that’s what sex looks like and I’d like to give that a go’. It’s appealing. They develop a kind of taste for what they see in pornography.”

Perhaps more disturbingly, Crabbe talked to young women who had experienced partners becoming aggressive or performing acts that they were uncomfortable with.

“It’s important to note that the women in pornography look like they are enjoying what is happening…95 per cent of cases of aggression in porn are met with a positive response from women performers. Young men describe initiating this kind of behaviour, and young women describe trying to work out how to respond to their male partners to types of experiences the young men are keen to engage in.”

The problem, says Crabbe, is that gonzo porn is creeping into the imaginations, expectations, and practices of young people. “There is difficulty and discomfort in trying to work out how to negotiate consent in that context and to have sexual experiences that are pleasurable and respectful – things that both partners can feel good about afterwards.”

This eroticised inequality and aggression is also present in gay male pornography, with one male taking the role of the aggressor. And in both heterosexual and homosexual pornography, there is a disturbing lack of safe sex. Crabbe says only 10 per cent of bestselling porn shows condom usage, and problematic practices, such as going directly from anal sex to oral or vaginal sex, are common. 

So what is the answer? We are too late to close the Pandora’s Box that is internet porn. Crabbe says we need to find a way to talk with our kids about this difficult subject, and for schools to provide relevant sex education.

We have to get over any embarrassment we might feel and move beyond the mechanics of sex education to discuss issues like arousal, pleasure and consent. Because, as Crabbe says, if we don’t talk about those things, we can be sure the porn industry will. And whose message do we want our kids to hear?

“We can no longer afford to be silent about arousal and pleasure and consent.”

A documentary called Love and sex in an age of pornography – produced by Crabbe and David Corlett – will screen on SBS2 Friday 25th July at 9.45pm. You can see a preview here.

Is the UK right in banning internet pornography? How would you deal with it in your home? Leave your comment below.