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Porn's distortions need addressing at school, educators argue

Online pornography is how many teenagers are learning about sex leading educators to argue that loving relationships, and how to reject degrading and violent behaviour, should be taught in school.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 04/06/2015

Reporter: Tracy Bowden

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: For teenagers, online pornography has become a fact of life and it's the way many young people learn about sex. But boys are chasing the fantasy they see on the screen, expecting girls to comply. Educators say children need to be taught in school about loving relationships and how to reject degrading violent behaviour. Tracy Bowden reports, and a warning: obviously, this story contains sexual references.

HEATHDALE CHRISTIAN COLLEGE STUDENT: Some girls or boys, like, they get the idea that, you know, sex is violent and that, you know, it's OK to use, like, chains and whips and that. If you hurt someone, that it's fine when you're doing that, but porn really gives a really bad image of what sex is supposed to be.

TRACY BOWDEN, REPORTER: Welcome to today's teenage world, where pornography is pervasive.

MELINDA TANKARD REIST, AUTHOR, ADVOCATE FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS: Our boys are looking at porn not only before they've had sex, before they've even had their first kiss and they think what they're seeing is normal. ...

... Girls tell us that boys expect them to provide what's known as PSE, the porn star experience. Boys expect that girls will provide for them everything they've seen in pornography and that the girls want that.

MIA, STUDENT, HEATHDALE CHRISTIAN COLLEGE: It puts a lot of pressure on us girls, of how we have to act sexually to please boys and, like, so we're watching it and it sends us a message, like, that's what we have to be.

TRACY BOWDEN: These students from Heathdale Christian College are remarkably candid about the images it's hard to avoid online.

TOM, STUDENT, HEATHDALE CHRISTIAN COLLEGE: For a lot of people it becomes the foundation of what they think a relationship is. They keep on watching this stuff and they're taught this is what a relationship is like, this is what you'll get if you're with somebody.

TRACY BOWDEN: Once sex education seemed so simple - a few diagrams and a talk about the birds and the bees.

TEACHER (Four Corners, 1967): You know they've got a big name. They're called the reproductive organs.

TRACY BOWDEN: Now many teenagers take their cues about sex from a screen.

MAREE CRABBE, SEX EDUCATOR: Porn is arguably the most prominent sexuality educator for many, perhaps most young people. 

TRACY BOWDEN: Sex educator Maree Crabbe travels the nation talking about the impact of pornography on young developing minds and bodies.

MAREE CRABBE: Unless we address the gendered nature of these issues, we are not gonna fix the problems. ...

... It's that pornography that deliberately normalizes acts that we know in the real world most women don't like and may experience as painful or degrading.

JAKE, 18-YEAR-OLD (Documentary): I'd watched so much porn, I thought, "All chicks dig this, all chicks want this done to them, all chicks want it up here, all chicks love it there." So I tried all this stuff and, yeah, it turned out bad.

TRACY BOWDEN: She made this documentary to expose the realities of the lucrative global porn industry.

PORNOGRAPHER (Documentary): We want to see somebody have an experience like they've never had before. That's what's visually interesting. That's why rough sex and strong sex works, because it's incredible to look at. As human beings, we want to see stuff like that.

MAREE CRABBE: Young people are seeing very powerful images of - moving images of - it's not just sex, it's what it conveys about bodies, about sexual health, about pleasure, consent, gender, aggression, power, about performance, about sex being something that you perform for someone.

ANNIE HILL: Now boys first, like, sexual encounters when they, like, stumble across porn on the internet and, like, all the available porn is, like, next-level stuff, like, it's not just kind of - like, there's no romance, like, affiliated with sex anymore.

TRACY BOWDEN: Annie Hill has vivid memories of her first encounter with online porn at the age of 11.

ANNIE HILL: We knew that all the boys were doing it. And I remember we, like, searched it in, but even, like - I think we literally just searched in the word "porn" and, like, all of the stuff that came up was so violent that we, like, couldn't go any further just because we were so shocked.

TRACY BOWDEN: Through her teenage years, she saw the impact of that material on boys.

ANNIE HILL: They just expect the girls to comply to anything they want.

TRACY BOWDEN: So that ideal of a relationship with respect and with both people feeling comfortable about what's going on, that's really challenging.

ANNIE HILL: Oh, my God, that's, like, impossible almost.

RUSSELL PRATT, PSYCHOLOGIST: These young men who look at it repetitive - or have repetitive experiences of look at porn, see the same thing again and again and again and again. and again, so it becomes very real for them.

TRACY BOWDEN: In his work with young people, psychologist Russell Pratt sees how girls are pressured to do things they don't want to do.

RUSSELL PRATT: Anal sex is requested routinely by young men. Young women feel that they have to oblige.

TRACY BOWDEN: Online pornography is also affecting the behaviour of some pre-teens.

RUSSELL PRATT: If you look at pornography, you have every angle, every shot, you know what goes where. And what we're actually seeing now of course is that with a cohort of young people who are engaging in problem sexual behaviours when they're under 10, that they're actually engaging in anal penetration, vaginal penetration and oral penetration because they have the actual mechanics of how to do it. They just look at porn.

MAREE CRABBE: I think we're setting young people up for not understanding how good relationships and sexuality can be, for having expectations of sex that aren't gonna feel good for each person.

TRACY BOWDEN: With pornography only ever a click away, the challenge is to help teenagers understand how to deal with it.

MAREE CRABBE: Teaching about pornography needs to be part of contemporary sexuality and relationships education and if it's not, we're kidding ourselves. It's like the elephant in the room. To talk about respectful relating and safe and consenting sex without having the conversation about what porn says about those things is from another century.

LEIGH SALES: Tracy Bowden reporting.


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