Porn in classrooms? Right sentiment, wrong place

A Danish professor has called on schools to screen pornography so students are prepared to see it in the real world. Is a classroom really the place though? Shutterstock

Happily we wedge their flat-packs into our chariots. Enviously we ogle their welfare policies and those minimalist little baby boxes. In cocoons of melancholy we overdose on Sigur Rós, on Múm, on El Perro del Mar and Peter, Bjorn and John. Then there’s all the drooling over Marimekko, Iittala and Skumgodis.

Is there anything left in Scandinavia that we don’t want to pilfer?

Those wacky Nords are, needless to say, at it again, this time tempting us with a new take on sex education. Apparently all that’s missing is a little show ’n’ tell.

Of the pornographic variety.

The rationale - and I’ll be up front and say I think it’s a sound one - is that rather than having 15-year-olds navigate the minefield of a pornified world unaided, that these young'ns need preparation with purpose-built classes shaping them into “conscientious and critical consumers”.

The undercurrent is that porn exposure is inevitable and that kids are best armed with the skills needed to understand and, notably, critique all of that bump, grind and splooge they’ll too soon see.

A week ago I actually wrote an article addressing the desperate need for media literacy in a world where children are first tasting porn at around ten years of age. That rather than parents denying both the reality of our mediascape and the savvy search skills of schoolkids, comprehensive sex ed needs to start early; certainly earlier than parents are comfortable with. That critical thinking skills should be considered as essential to the curriculum as maths, or language.

So should porn play a part here? Does explicit content have a useful role in better-quality sex education and critical thinking?

On one hand, starting frank and detailed sex ed at 15 is actually already too late. If kids are first seeing porn at ten, then the whole frank-and-fearless education shebang needs to start long before that first creampie, gangbang or facial is viewed on a smartphone.

But let’s put that detail to one side.

While I’m completely confident of the need for early, comprehensive and continual sex ed and media literacy training, I’m not at all convinced that showing a few YouPorn clips should be part of this.

A few years back my then-partner and I were in a supermarket. There, standing in the hygiene aisle, I casually asked, “Do we need condoms?”

He was utterly mortified.

So naïve I was, apparently, that I’d neglected to observe the laws of supermarket etiquette, supermarket volume and supermarket euphemism. I hadn’t duly respected that ours is a culture that still harbours a multitude of sexual hang-ups and that even those men sharing our beds don’t always share our loathing of decorum.

The shortcomings in our cultural maturity were again made glaringly - and repeatedly - obvious to me during my research on menstruation and masturbation: that while those curse of Eve/hair-on-palms demonisations might be waning, there still remains a strong yen to keep all of this bodily stuff private.

I could bang on about how stigma, silence and supermarket awkwardness does each of us a disservice. That we’d each be better off being more liberal, asking more questions, having better and more explicit conversations. Of course, I get to say this as a 34-year-old who has spent over a decade researching this stuff, who takes her comfort a tad for granted.

At 15, however, while I’d certainly have enjoyed watching a little porn, I most definitely wouldn’t have wanted to do so in a classroom setting.

I say this even with the anatomical advantage of being able to conceal arousal.

Teenage boys already spend too much time willing their bodies not to betray them: do we really want to actively create a situation of more awkwardness for already self-conscious teenagers? Twenty years on and I still recoil at the memory of my Year 10 maths teacher belabouring the menstruation/mensuration difference; the idea of watching porn in that same setting is unthinkable.

At 15, schoolkids still find the concept of a “dick-tionary” hilarious. Unwanted erections aside, no screening of explicit content to high school kids will transpire without copious guffaws, giggles and lesson plans being hijacked by a desperate need for crowd control.

And don’t get me started on the dilemma of clip selection! What material would truly represent both the enormous diversity of porn and also serve useful in an educative sense? Do we want, say, the Dane Jones love-making stuff that always makes me a little dry-retchy? Or perhaps some of the tattooed-and-pierced altporn of the Suicide Girls variety? And how do we screen just a lil’ porn and yet dodge all those crucial conversations about pleasure, pain, exploitation, ecstasy, body image, body modification and fetish that no high school curriculum could ever really do justice to?

In Australia, the call for comprehensive education about topics as simple - and fundamental - as masturbation too often causes conniptions. The Danish-style sex ed, therefore, is likely a complete non-starter. That’s not a great loss on this occasion; I’m not convinced porn has a useful role in the high school classroom.