September 22nd, 2014

Better sex education will help youth make safer decisions

By Sumedha Jalote, Communications Executive, AWARE

The recent survey examining young people’s exposure to pornography highlights the importance of talking to them frankly and openly about sex.

Most pornography seldom reflects reality. Professional performers in popular pornography often engage in physical acts that are uncommon in reality, in part because they are often uncomfortable rather than enjoyable. Their bodies do not reflect the ordinary range of shapes and sizes.

Moreover, the interactions of performers tend to be modelled upon sexist and unrealistic sexual fantasies. Human relationships and practical considerations such as consent, STI prevention and contraception are seldom addressed in freely accessible, popular pornography.

Young people who do not have access to other sources of information about sexuality may consume this material uncritically, treating it as sex education.

This may encourage them to become dissatisfied with their bodies and to develop unrealistic expectations of sexual encounters. They may feel pressure to participate in types of sexual activity that they do not want.  They may also absorb problematic ideas about consent, as popular pornography rarely depicts women as human beings with their own sexuality, boundaries and rights.

sex-edIt is therefore vital that young people receive accurate, empowering sex education in schools, as well as safe, open environments at home to discuss sexuality. This will help them to better understand what to expect from sex and how to make safe, informed decisions.

Sexual feelings are a normal part of life. Teachers and parents must be careful not to shame young people for the mere fact of having sexual desires or engaging in sexual activity such as masturbation. If adults make young people feel guilty or ashamed, this will only discourage them from seeking further information and support.

We also need more education and discussion about consent to prevent sexual violence and create a society in which everyone is empowered to safely navigate their sexuality.

Ultimately, comprehensive sex education in schools and open discussions at home should discuss pornography and sex without shaming young people, encouraging them to critically assess the images they see and recognise the many differences between pornography and reality.

An edited version of this letter was first published in the Straits Times Forum on 22 September 2014.

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