Posted By

Tags

Academic advocates an alternative approach to sex education

Research focuses on porn literacy from a critical perspective

Massey University Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Siobhán Healy-Cullen (Photo Supplied)

Supplied Content
Palmerston North, April 5, 2023

Despite good intentions, porn literacy education may undermine young people’s agency, implying a need for a more radically youth-orientated approach to sexuality education, a Massey University research has found.

Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Siobhán Healy-Cullen has published a Paper on Porn Literacy Education in New Zealand.

Her research, co-authored with colleagues at Massey University and the University of Auckland, has been published in Culture, Health & Sexuality,  The Palgrave Encyclopaedia of Sexuality Education, Sexualities, Porn Studies, Sexuality Research and Social Policy, and Sexuality and Culture.

Critical Engagement

Porn literacy education, as it is most commonly understood, seeks to teach youth how to engage critically with pornography so that they ‘make healthy decisions’ about sex and relationships.

Her research focuses on porn literacy from a critical perspective, through hearing from young people themselves, as well as those tasked with sexuality education.

As part of her study, Dr Healy-Cullen surveyed and interviewed 16-18-year-olds, caregivers and teachers. The research shows how adult views of youth sexuality are different from young people’s views of themselves as sexual beings and viewers of pornography.

“This is an important insight for developing sexuality education initiatives that fit with young people’s lives, rather than adult perceptions of their realities,” she said.

Dr Healy-Cullen’s research shows that youth are viewing pornography with some level of criticality and are more adept at navigating pornography than typically assumed.

A key finding is that young participants resisted adult positioning of youth as gullible, at-risk and ineligible consumers of pornography. There were also instances where participants expressed reservations about the basic assumptions of porn literacy education.

Through her research, Dr Healy-Cullen found that porn literacy, as it is commonly envisaged, could potentially be considered out-of-touch by youth.

She said that young participants in her research showed complex and nuanced understandings of pornography, which aligns with findings from international research.

“They reported that they find it intriguing and arousing, but also had concerns about how it represents gender relations and objectifies various people and their bodies. This means that they are capable of separating pornography from the ‘real’-world, even while using it as a tool to learn about sex alongside other sources of information. So, it seems that many young people do know that pornography is fake and fantastical and are already able to criticise the problems with it,” Dr Healy-Cullen said.

A balanced critique

“If that is the case, it is not surprising that programmes focused on teaching what is ‘fake’ or unhealthy versus ‘real’ or healthy sex may be received as patronising or irrelevant by some youth. Sexuality education must go beyond ‘critically analysing’ pornography and deciphering what is real or unreal. When there is a lot of excitement about a new idea, especially if that idea seems like common sense, it is important to reflect on whether this really is the best way forward. Porn literacy seems that it may not be all it is hyped up to be. It may actually be problematic in some ways,” she added.

Her research offers a balanced critique of porn literacy education as it is most commonly understood. She cautions that porn literacy programmes that aim to protect young people from pornography­ – simply by instructing them in a top-down way that porn is unrealistic – may be short-sighted and ineffective.

“Literacy programmes often aim to be youth-orientated and empowering, but these aims are thwarted by an approach that focuses on what adults think young people need. It also takes a deficit view of young people as hapless and helpless. Because of this, youth are not consulted or meaningfully involved but simply told to ‘critically analyse’ pornography as ‘unrealistic’, ‘bad’ and ultimately reject it, which participants in my study said they didn’t find helpful or engaging,” Dr Healy-Cullen said.

Educators rely on their own values and beliefs about sexuality and relationships when teaching about what is ‘unhealthy’ or ‘unrealistic.’ This is not surprising because these issues are deeply related to people’s beliefs, values and morals, she said.

Alternative Education

“Rather than trying to present teachers’ appraisals as objective, an alternative approach would be to discuss pornography as an issue that is associated with values and morals and help guide and equip young people to clarify how it relates to their own beliefs,” Ms Healy-Cullen said.

Her findings show that young people are capable of this and hold valid knowledge on the topic.

Young people want to be taken seriously, and not seen just as ‘an innocent little child’; as one young person in the study put it,” she said and suggested an alternative educational approach: ethical sexual citizenship.

This approach is learner-centred, invites youth participation and recognises that many young people are already porn literate to some extent. It is a strengths-based perspective in which young people are seen as able to be critical consumers of pornography and, whether adults like it or not, sexual beings with their own needs and concerns. This contrasts with the deficit-based, adult-centric approach to porn literacy.

“In practice, ethical sexual citizenship is a social-justice-orientated approach which promotes ethical integrity in sexual relations. Rather than narrowly demarcating the unacceptability or acceptability of desires, the idea is to dialogue with youth about the conditions for the ethical exploration of desires. Such discussions of sexually ethical practices encourage care of the self and care of others.”

This approach makes it possible to discuss pornography in a way that acknowledges that it is associated with pleasure for many people, while at the same time reflecting on how it can also recreate problematic portrayals of people from certain (often marginalised) groups, appearances, or relationships. Such approaches support youth in feeling equipped to negotiate broader issues regarding sexuality and feeling empowered to question, reflect and act upon sexualised media representations that support inequitable power relations.

Source: Massey News, Massey University

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share this story

Related Stories

Indian Newslink

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement

Previous slide
Next slide

Advertisement