In March of this year, the UK government introduced the Online Safety Bill, which attempts to make online pornography unavailable to those below the age of 18. If brought into full effect, it will ensure that all commercial pornographic sites have a duty to prevent children from accessing this content. Isabelle Kennedy-Grimes asks whether this bill will help young people in the UK.
Research estimates that approximately half of children aged 11-13 have been exposed to pornographic content. Considering that early exposure to porn has been found to impact child development and behaviours, the bill aims to be beneficial by ensuring that this figure is lowered. However, the dominant concerns about the impact of porn on children should be addressed through education, rather than being assumed to have been dealt with by online restrictions.
The misogynistic and violent nature of pornography distorts young people’s perceptions of sex
Digital minister, Chris Philip has asserted that online porn “fuels school sexual assault”. It is true that the misogynistic and violent nature of pornography distorts young people’s perceptions of sex. However, the education of sex in the UK does not always acknowledge this, nor does it make any sufficient effort to address the problem of consent. If the primary concerns of our government are to prevent sexual assault, violence and rape, then something must be changed in the way that schools teach sex education.
Currently, the education of young people on sexual consent in this country too often relies on a video which compares the violation of sexual consent to the force-feeding of a cup of tea. Those of you either in, or recently in, secondary education will know the video I am referring to. The video demonstrates the analogy that, just as you would not force someone to drink a cup of tea, you should not force them to engage in sexual activity.
Although technically true, this analogy only instigated laughter from my secondary school classroom, on account of how patronising and painfully obvious the message came across. But the requirements for consensual sex are quite clearly not as obvious as this, otherwise there would not be so many cases of sexual assault and rape within schools and universities.
The focus now needs to be on reshaping sex education in the UK
What our government should be doing is educating young people with a complete checklist as to what qualifies as consensual sex, so that they can (1) ensure that they are 100% respectful towards their sexual partner and (2) know the grounds upon which they can rightfully report sexual assault. Children and young people should also be made aware of the long-term impact that sexual assault has on the mental health of victims.
Restricting the viewership of online porn to over-18s is important, but efforts to prevent sexual assault in schools must be enforced within the educational system. A measure such as this should have been enforced long ago since pornography is already 18+ rated content. The focus now needs to be on reshaping sex education in the UK to prevent the misogynistic and violent attitudes which lead to sexual assault.
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