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St Dunstan’s College was delighted to host a groundbreaking conference at Mansion House on Tuesday 20 June to tackle the ongoing teen pornography crisis.
The ‘Let’s Talk About… Porn, Sex and Educating for the Difference’ conference brought together heads, deputy heads and pastoral leads from 100 schools – both independent and state – from across the country.
Opening the conference, St Dunstan’s Head, Nick Hewlett, said: ‘Teaching young children about pornography does not need to be undertaken in a binary way of wrong and right, indeed that is arguably unhelpful, but it should, in my view, be in schools where we facilitate sensitive conversations with children to help them understand the cyberspace they occupy, and to help them grow in the formulation of their own values and judgements in this space.
‘If we don’t get a grip on this and start talking with young people properly, we will have a generation coming through who will come out the other side entering adulthood with a completely distorted view of what sex should look like and feel like and consequently an intrinsic dissatisfaction that their sex life is not a replication of that.
‘It is my view that we have a duty to help them navigate an unregulated world, understanding the context that porn is not reality. That sexual domination and control of women, or men, non-consensually is not the normality, nor is it acceptable.’
The conference, which took place at Mansion House in the City of London, comes after worrying statistics were released from the Children’s Commissioner’s Report. According to the report published earlier this year, half of children who had seen pornography had seen it by the age of 13. 79% had encountered violent pornography before the age of 18.
A worrying 47% of all respondents in the Children’s Commissioner’s stated that girls expect sex to involve violence, especially strangulation. Exchange of nude photos and sending of unsolicited explicit images has become commonplace among school students. The 2020 initiative Everyone’s Invited brought to light the extent of sexual harassment at schools and it is hard not to notice the link with the staggering influence of porn on young people.
He also added: ‘Without educators facilitating such discussion, where do we end up? We end up in a future society where a generation have had sex lessons through an unregulated cyberspace. A taboo that was never aired at school, never acknowledged, never discussed. A generation who grew up to have a distorted view of what healthy sex and love looks like and means.’
Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn, who talked at TED 2009, also addressed delegates about the fact we don’t talk openly and honestly about sex, and this can lead young people to extreme and violent videos.
The programme also featured Chanel Contos, founder of Teach Us Consent, a campaign that was responsible for mandating consent education in Australian schools; Nicole Daley and Jess Alder, who travelled from the United States for the event, and are the creators of The Truth about Pornography Curriculum; and Justin Hancock, one of the country’s leading sex and relationships educators.
Speaking about support for school leaders, Head, Nick Hewlett, explained: ‘We have unhelpfully limited guidance from the Department for Education on this, meaning that schools have had no choice but to try their best to chart their own way. Seeking support from third party providers, trying to teach to the realities of this space on their own. When guidance is limited and culture wars become ever more potent, it is a recipe for polarised views. It can feel like it is impossible to get it right. Schools are lambasted for going too far and yet we have no guidance on how and what to teach in an area that we know matters and we know is affecting our pupils. We have to dial down the rhetoric and talk.’
Following the success of the conference, St Dunstan’s College, which was named Independent Senior School of the Year at the Tes Schools Awards last year, looks to host another ‘Let’s Talk About…’ event in 2024.