A publication released by a group of health and children’s charities says that teachers should bear in mind that pornography is “hugely diverse”.
Pupils as young as 11 should be taught the dangers of “sexting” and five-year-olds should know how airbrushing in the media creates unrealistic body image expectations, it says.
Older pupils aged 14 upwards should tackle “real” and “unreal” behaviour in pornography, says the guide, which directs teachers to a list of online resources they can use in lessons.
It suggests using a website called TheSite.org, an advice forum for young people, which tells teenagers that “porn can be great” and aims to tackle a series of “myths” about the subject. “Sex is great. And porn can be great. It’s the idea that porn sex is like real sex which is the problem,” says the website. “But if you can separate the fantasy from the reality you’re much more likely to enjoy both.”
The guide was published by the Sex Education Forum (SEF), a coalition of more than 90 organisations, including the NSPCC and Barnardo’s, established to campaign for better lessons in the subject.
However, critics said many parents would be “horrified” if their children were taught about pornography in school. Campaigners said it was “playing with fire” and warned that it could encourage a casual attitude towards sex.
The publication follows the Government’s announcement that it will no longer include personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), which is commonly used to deliver sex education lessons, in the National Curriculum. Instead, schools will be left to draw up their own syllabuses.
On Thursday the SEF released the first edition of the online publication Sex Educational Supplement — The Pornography Issue, which is intended to help schools teach sex education, providing resources on how to broach the “potentially difficult and controversial subject” of pornography.
The publication includes a “wish list” compiled by teachers about what they think fellow staff should know, including that “pornography is hugely diverse — it’s not necessarily 'all bad’ ”.
However, Norman Wells, from the Family Education Trust, said that introducing pupils to pornography risked undermining children’s “natural sense of reserve”.
“The intention appears to be to steer children and young people away from a belief in moral absolutes and to encourage them to think that there are no rights and wrongs when it comes to sexual expression,” he said.
“Many parents will be horrified at the prospect of their children being taught about pornography within such a framework. To take a no-holds barred approach to sex education has the potential to break down pupils’ natural sense of reserve and to encourage casual attitudes towards sex.”
He added: “If we want children to view sexual intimacy as something valuable, special and worthy of respect, it needs to be addressed with modesty and restraint. To give lessons on pornography is to play with fire.”
The publication includes lesson ideas for each age group, with suggestions including discussing the dangers of “sexting” with pupils aged 11 to 14. It asks students to think about why young people do it, “which may include positive reasons such as 'for fun’ ”.
The publication features an interview with a state school teacher from Sheffield, who asks her 15 and 16-year-old pupils to give their views on pornography.
Boo Spurgeon, the head of personal, social, health and economic education at Forge Valley Community School, reported that her pupils said they “need the chance to consider the pros and cons, and there should be balanced teaching about it, not just negatives”.
Pupils said the subject should be mentioned in the first year of secondary school, for 11 and 12-year-olds, because “that is the average age that pornography gets viewed”. Students also noted that “you can learn some helpful positions from some films”, but added: “It isn’t a model of good sex, but sometimes people do it because they enjoy it.”
The Department for Education has outlined a system in which schools would be given the task of drawing up their own PSHE curriculum.
Chris McGovern, a former headmaster and chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said lessons on pornography should only be carried out with parental consent. “This material may be widely available but some responsible parents will be very careful to make sure their children can’t access it and they would be horrified to think they are being exposed to it at school,” he said.
Lucy Emmerson, coordinator of the Sex Education Forum, said: “Teachers have told us they are nervous about mentioning pornography, yet given the ease with which children are able to access explicit sexual content on the internet, it is vital that teachers can respond to this reality appropriately.”