Sex & Relationships

What explicit images are doing to young relationships

Why sex educators need to start thinking about what kids see online, and how they can reverse the effects.

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(Photo by Masterfile)

There have been a number of news reports of late to suggest that teenagers and even children are becoming increasingly more sex-savvy — or rather, porn savvy. For that troubling cultural development, we can thank the Internet and the proliferation of adult content.

As the first generation to experience such easy access to graphic sexual images the jury is still largely out on how that early exposure affects development.

There are indicators that the impact is largely negative — surprise, surprise. One recent poll commissioned by the Daily Telegraph in the U.K. suggests that nearly one third of young people believe that pornography accurately depicts what constitutes a working relationship between the sexes.

Oh, dear.

To understand the gravity of that finding consider the plot of any porn film and then try and apply it to your real-life relationship. Can you join me in a collective yuck?

For girls and young women this may be even more damaging, as they look to female porn stars as role models of female behaviour. Boys and young men aren’t exactly being served well either as they absorb the idea that women are just sexual agents and objects.

Even more worrying to many is the fact that children and young adults may be under the impression that sex is the only aspect of a relationship. There are no jaunts to Pottery Barn in a porn film or dealings with the in-laws, no date-nights or long conversations about the future, hopes and dreams to offset all the forced, robotic oohs and ahhs.

To combat that one-dimensional view of sex and relationships, the Daily Telegraph has launched a campaign for more comprehensive sex education for kids and teens. That means introducing ideas about what constitutes a good and healthy relationship and frankly discussing unhealthy images and expectations in the classroom.

To contextualize sexual behaviour with an eye toward emotional health and to talk to kids and teens frankly about how they ought to behave toward one another and the kind of treatment they should demand from their peers — compassionate, loving, respectful — sounds not only like a good idea, but one that’s a long time coming. Might be nice for adults to get the CliffsNotes on that lesson too.