“I know it when I see it” Porn Post #1: Why pornography should be included in sexuality education

A recent discussion on a listserve of sexuality educators inspired me to put together my ideas on the relevance of pornography to sexuality education. This is the first of what I anticipate being several posts on porn.

Pornography is one of the topics that remains contentiously debated in our society- whether to permit it at all, at what age should people be able to watch/buy it, if the people on screen should be required to use barrier methods, if it is feminist to be pro-porn, and so on.  However, the truth is, people of all ages watch porn.  In fact, it’s sometimes hard to avoid!  At the very least porn takes up space in our society, and just as we learn about things like science and math (even if we think we don’t need to), individuals need an opportunity to learn about the topic of pornography regardless of whether they partake. I believe that we would be remiss in our roles as sexuality educators if we were to omit this highly relevant topic. I am not proposing having participants watch porn in class (imagine the press you’d get about that), but I do believe there needs to be time and space dedicated to the topic in a sexuality education program. (Don’t worry, I will get to my ideas on when and how to teach about porn in subsequent posts.)

So if not to watch it, what are we aiming to accomplish in a lesson about pornography?  The goal shouldn’t be to make people afraid of porn, or even to dissuade participants from watching it.   Ideally, the overall goal should be to encourage them to think critically about pornography, come to their own conclusions about whether or not to partake, and be able to articulate their personal opinions and decisions about porn to their peers and partners.

Here are a few sample learning objectives to chew on:

By the end of the lesson the participant will be able to…

  • identify at least three ways they will determine their personal values about porn.
  • discuss the feminist debate about porn.
  • recognize that porn exists on a continuum, and that some pornography is not OK (for example, child pornography).
  • explain how sexual activity could be portrayed differently in pornography vs. real life.
  • differentiate between healthy and unhealthy behaviors involving pornography.

Note: ANY lesson in sexuality education should be age-appropriate and provide any facts available.  These (draft) learning objectives will not apply to all age groups.

Not everyone is into porn, for whatever reason, and that’s perfectly healthy and ok! And at the same time we need to prepare individuals to encounter porn in their lives, however it might come up.  If we ignore it, dismiss it, or just discourage it, we miss
an opportunity to help people understand a complicated and relevant issue.  And if we just hope that people will “know it when [they] see it”, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said in the 1964 decision on Jacobellis vs. Ohio, individuals will be ill-equipped to respond in a healthy way.

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4 thoughts on ““I know it when I see it” Porn Post #1: Why pornography should be included in sexuality education

  1. Very well said. I like the fact you listed specific goals for the discussion. Two other aspects I really think need to be recognized (and I’ll state them as goals) are:
    * discuss the pro- and anti-porn arguments in the context of amateur self-exposure on the internet.
    * discuss the pro- and anti-porn arguments in the context of gay porn

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