Report on internet pornography highlights need for education, not restriction

One of my biggest concerns in recent years has been the effect of access to easily available internet pornography on the next generation of young people. Every time I ask an expert in the field to reassure me and tell me that I’m panicking too much, they shake their head and tell me that my fears are spot on.

It just takes a couple of clicks to arrive at free videos which depict women in a subjugative role, as little more than receptacles. The language used about those women is demeaning and deeply misogynistic. The expectations of a generation of boys are being guided by their access to this stuff.

The BBC reports on a study commissioned by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in England which recommends that sex education must adapt to take account of the effect of internet pornography and help children develop a resilience to its effects, which they outline as:

It can lead to more sexually permissive attitudes, more casual sex, sex at a younger age, and the belief that women are sex objects with males dominant and females submissive, suggests the study.

There is a correlation between children and young people who use pornography and “risky behaviours” such as anal sex, sex with multiple partners and using alcohol and other drugs during sex, say the authors.

What’s also worrying is the gender difference – boys seeks this stuff out, while girls are much more wary of it.

I am pleased that the recommendations of the report emphasise the importance of education, robustly dealing with this stuff. Controversially, it suggests that it should be compulsory in all schools, including faith schools, colleges, private schools and academies. I think that is a very sensible approach to a problem which could ruin young people’s lives. If you think I’m being melodramatic, we are already seeing young women put in horrible predicaments after being pressured into sexting. Note that the young men who put pressure on their girlfriends to supply the photos and subsequently breach their trust by distributing them to all and sundry seem to get away without attracting any sort of disapproval.

There was a tv series about 4 years ago where Channel 4 compared porn with reality. It busted a lot of myths and challenged young people’s perceptions and expectations by showing them how real bodies looked and how the porn industry worked. That, to me, along with ensuring that our young people grow up knowing what a loving relationship is all about, is much more likely to be effective.

What relevance does this have for the Coalition? They now have to decide what to do with this report. Well, the Tories are more inclined towards  opt-ins and measures to get ISPs to restrict access. That’s futile, to be honest. Even if your child is safe at home, they may not be round at their friends’ houses. Not only that, but I feel very uneasy about having some piece of software at an ISP tell me that I can’t access articles on breastfeeding. I wrote about this last year:

 A ban, though is unworkable. It’s much worse to hand over control of what I consider acceptable for my daughter (or me to that matter) to see to the likes of BT or Orange. When I think that sites likeMark Pack’s blog have been blocked for having pornographic content by some providers, you see how easily mistakes can be made. While that’s a humourous example, I also would not like to think that a teenager looking for advice on safe sex or maybe coming to terms with their own sexuality would not be able to find what they need. I know that there are some things that my daughter would find way too exruciating to talk to me about, so inobtrusively providing her with access to accurate, reliable information is important to me.

I hope that our ministers within the Coalition will press the need fro compulsory, evidence based, quality sex education for all young people. That to me is the most liberal solution.

I also hope that this report will make the men who tell me that I am a humourless, frigid killjoy when I write about these things take notice and realise that we need to take action to deal with the effects of such easy access to pornography, which perseverate long after the initial viewing of the pornography.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Daniel Henry 24th May '13 - 11:21am
  • AlanPlatypus 24th May '13 - 1:21pm

    Evidence based policy is good but it must be independent and away from the hands of gender ideologues.

    Oh and the quotation given from the BBC article refers to things that happened long before the invention of the internet.

  • Andrew Colman 25th May '13 - 8:12am

    Education is definately better than censorship. Some are using pornography as an excuse to censor the internet for real reasons that are very different. Eg media barons trying to protect their markets, corporations and politicians who don’t want their policies discussed.

  • Stuart Mitchell 25th May '13 - 9:03am

    Education is of course necessary and desirable but I think it’s impact will be small. The moment some hormone-crazed adolescent starts looking at porn, whatever he’s learned at school becomes the furthest thing from his mind. Parents need educating more than the children do, as they are the key to this problem.

    Those who are appalled by the idea of “censorship” – does it anger you that pornographic magazines are not sold to children, or that hard-core porn is not available on Freeview 24 hours a day? If an effective, voluntary ISP-level filter could be produced, this would be no more “censorship” than those other restrictions I just mentioned, so long as the content remained available to adults.

    I don’t accept the idea that a filter cannot be made to work well. We’ve sent men to the moon and mapped the genome – I cannot believe that it is beyond the wits of man to devise a filter that can tell the difference between rape porn and breastfeeding. The Internet industry simply needs prodding to come up with a solution. Of course such a filter can never be the whole solution, but you could say the same about education. We need a range of tools to help parents and children, not just one.

  • Whilst I believe education is the key and I concur that the portrayal of women can be appalling, is it really liberal to be preaching moralistic rhetoric around permissiveness, multiple partners, casual sex, anal sex etc? As liberals surely adults can be and do all these things so long as its consensual ?? Why does our society feel it necessary to suggest one form of sexual activity over another is some how better than another. People can and should be able to do what they want with whom they want if it’s consensual and surely we shouldn’t be moralising over that? That’s liberalism surely or have I missed something Caron?

  • Eddie Sammon 25th May '13 - 12:06pm

    I am concerned about some of the stuff on the internet and I want criminal action taken. A lot of this is definitely not consensual.

    Having said this, I don’t think we need to wrap people up in cotton wool too much. I generally don’t agree with censorship. but anything definitely violent needs to be banned and prosecutions made.

    Regarding education: yes we should warn people off the stuff on the internet, but not go overboard with the amount of time sex education takes in school.

  • Eddie – it’s the moralistic tone that somehow anything that might depict something away from a sexual ‘norm’ ie multiple partners etc is somehow to be frowned upon, discouraged etc. Abuse and violence is wrong and should be dealt with and education around treatment of women is needed too but surely we shouldn’t be setting down ‘ideals’ – just because someone has multiple partners etc doesnt make them a bad or lesser person?

  • Eddie Sammon 25th May '13 - 12:32pm

    Ashley I agree 100%. Some feminists would probably have asked for 50 shades of grey to be banned, before they seen its popularity.

  • Robin Bennett 25th May '13 - 1:08pm

    I agree with Stuart Mitchell’s forthright contribution.

    I recall that some years ago there was a claim that more sex education was required in schools to cut down on teenage pregnancies, and the explicit illustrations in Netherlands sex education books were cited as an example of what to do. Later, however, it was accepted that the lower incidence of pregnancies in Holland was more attributable to parental influence than to education in schools.

  • A Social Liberal 25th May '13 - 6:19pm


    I saw the initial programme you remarked upon, but have not seen any evidence of the subsequent attribution of lower pregnancies to better parenting. Could you tell me where you got this evidence from please.

  • I agree with most of this, but the idea of the “porn industry”(a lot of production is amateur, non-American and fractured now and the traditional porn companies have huge financial problems), putting forward a particular body type (I imagine when you talk about non-real bodies this is what you mean) is wrong an out of date. Actually one of the few positive things about the industry is that, unlike almost all other areas of the media it has to put forward women who match men’s ideas of attractiveness, which varies, but for most men is in the range of BMIs of 18-23 – more or less the same as the recommended healthy weight of 18-25 (and pretty much exactly the same as the range of BMIs one would bet onto have the best chance of still being in the healthy range in 10 years time), which is what evolutionary biology would lead one to expect. (research paper, graph of average British preferences is on page 120).
    Why evolutionary biology causes women’s magazines to be full of ultrathin women is something I have no idea about, but anyway such women are just as “real” as you are.

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