A Danish sexology professor’s comments advocating that pornography should be shown in the classroom to help students be more critical of what they watch online, has revealed the deep divide in opinion on the same issue in the UK.
Professor Christian Graugaard, a sexology professor at Aalborg University in Denmark, was speaking to the Danish television broadcaster DR when he made the comments. He believes that pupils aged 13 and above should be able to view and discuss pornographic images and literature as part of sex education classes.
Research conducted in the Nordic countries suggests that young people encounter pornography online when they are in their early teens, with studies showing that up to 99% of teenage boys and 86% of teenage girls in the Nordic countries have seen some pornography.
“Young people, like the rest of us, are part of a sexualised post-modern society, says Graugaard. “What I am proposing is that we reinvent sex education in the classroom. Rather than focusing on the technical disease-related or biological aspects of sex, we should also use this platform to discuss and show other phenomena, such as pornography, taught by trained teachers, so that young people can develop a critical approach to what they are seeing.”
“We know that Nordic adolescents are quite capable of differentiating between pornography and the reality of sexual relationships, but at the same time we know a small minority do not have those skills, and to keep them out of trouble we need to reach out to them.”
Professor Graugaard says the reaction to his proposal has been positive, with many teachers and pupils supporting his views. The broadcaster DR spoke to several pupils at different schools to gauge their reactions, and were, according to Graugaard, “very much in favour”.
"I think you could get something out of it – for example the difference between real love between two people who have sex and hard porn and orgies from the US," ninth grade student Anders Kaagaard told DR.
Classroom discussions about pornography are already taking place in Danish schools, and Graugaard believes the majority of schools would be open to the idea. “I’m not worried about the effects of this at all, the vast majority of Danish students at this age have already seen porn.”
Yet opinion within the UK is divided. The chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, Chris McGovern, believes that teaching students about pornography should be a decision that parents make. “You’ve got to listen to the parents. On the whole, they know best. But I do not think the UK is anywhere near what is being proposed in Denmark, because quite simply, it would cause an outcry among parents. It would cause outrage and considerable anxiety.”
According to McGovern, the issue is certainly one of growing concern. “Pornography and sex education is definitely more of an issue than it used to be. Sexting is certainly an issue among young people, and it is a fact of life that children are sending sexual images to each other, which is being used by bullies. But I don’t think this Danish professor quite understands the damaging impact putting porn before young children could cause.”
According to research carried out on on behalf of NAHT (National Association of Headteachers) in 2013, more than half of UK parents questioned (51%) believed that lessons on the dangers of pornography shouldn’t be introduced to children until they’d reached their teens, although 42% felt that even children as young as five or six needed guidance as soon as they were old enough to access the internet, and 7% thought it was never appropriate to raise issues of pornography in schools.
While McGovern accepts that it is difficult to teach about the dangers of the internet without actually showing students the dangers, he believes there are plenty of schools where “chaos reigns”, and that showing pornography in these schools could have a detrimental effect on other areas of learning, or be viewed as a form of entertainment by some students.
In 2013, the Sex Education Forum (SEF), a coalition of more than 90 organisations, including the NSPCC and Barnardo’s, released a guide which urged UK teachers to examine and discuss “real” and “unreal” behaviour in pornography, and advises that not all pornography is bad. The pamphlet directed teachers to a website called TheSite, an advice forum for young people, which tells teenagers that “porn can be great”. “Sex is great. And porn can be great,” the website reads. “It’s the idea that porn sex is like real sex which is the problem. But if you can separate the fantasy from the reality you’re much more likely to enjoy both.”
Denmark lifted a ban on pornography in 1967 and the country became the first in the world to completely legalise pornography in 1969.
Sex education in Danish schools has been compulsory since 1970, although parents can withdraw their students from classes if they wish. In the UK sex education is not compulsory, although a report by The Commons Education Committee last month called for compulsory sex and relationships education in all primary and secondary schools.