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.