Children 'should be taught about pornography and sexting'

Date: 7th March 2017

A survey by Plan International UK supports the view that the impact of pornography should be a compulsory part of school curriculums.

The survey, commissioned by the charity and carried out by Opinium, asked the public whether they backed the inclusion of the subjects as part of sex and relationships education (SRE) in schools.

There was strong support across the board for the inclusion of a number of topics in SRE:

  • 86 per cent supported the inclusion of education on sexual consent (just two per cent disagreed)
  • 82 per cent favoured education about violence and abuse in relationships (just four per cent opposed)
  • 75 per cent supported the inclusion of education about the impact of pornography (just seven per cent opposed)
  • 71 per cent were in favour of education about 'sexting' (with just 12 per cent disagreeing)

Support was generally slightly higher among parents, with 87 per cent supporting education on sexual consent, 83 per cent for violence and abuse in relationships, 77 per cent supporting education on the impact of pornography, and 73 per cent for 'sexting'.

Seven out of ten parents also backed the inclusion of education about different sexualities. Plan International UK's chief executive Tanya Barron said: "It's clear that the UK public - including parents - feel that educating our children about issues such as sexual consent, different sexual orientations and the impact of pornography is important.

"Parents are simply demanding that their children's education reflects the 21st century reality of their lives. Children today can be exposed to all sorts of sexual imagery on a daily basis which we know to be causing harm.

"Children themselves - girls in particular - are telling us that they feel they need improved, age-appropriate mandatory sex and relationships education to help them navigate these difficult issues.

"Such education is categorically not about exposing children to harmful or distressing material unnecessarily. Clearly such education would need to be appropriate to the age of the child, and we as a society need to discuss what that would look like."

The cross-party Women and Equalities Committee said in its report last September that compulsory sex education would "help to significantly reduce the incidence of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools".



Equally Safe is Scotland's strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls. It was developed in 2014 and updated in 2016. Culture change can be facilitated through Scotland's education system. Zero Tolerance and Rape Crisis Scotland are jointly leading an initiative to develop a whole school approach to support secondary schools to address and prevent gender based violence in all areas of their school ethos, environment and education. It links together all forms of gender based violence which affect schools and young people including sexual harassment, homophobia, sexting, sexual abuse, assault and exploitation, FGM, rape, domestic abuse, stalking, honour-related violence and explains how they are interrelated and share common causes and consequences in terms of gender inequality, as set out in the Equally Safe Strategy. Teachers often identify a need for greater knowledge, understanding and confidence addressing these issues.

In the event of poor teaching practices and lack of information, evidence suggests young people turn to other sources for information on sex and relationships, which are often less accurate. For example, in a 2014 survey conducted by Zero Tolerance, 77% of young people stated that RSHP education at school was a source of their knowledge on sex and relationships. However, 62% claimed their knowledge came from pornography and 70% said it came from sexual relationships.
Most young people thought pornography was a poor model for consent or safe sex and wanted better sex education, covering the impact of pornography. Young people wanted to be able to find out about sex and relationships and about pornography in ways that were safe, private and credible, and highlighted the need for materials that are age and gender appropriate.

Sexualised, misogynistic and violence-related content is widespread online. This can contribute to girls at school feeling bullied and pressured both in and outside of relationships. In particular, girls report that double standards, pornography and sexualised media consumption affects the expectations of partners and impacts on their mental and physical health. A recent survey finds that children across the UK are increasingly encountering pornography from an early age, shaping the norms, values and pressures of young people to engage in sexual activity (such as 'sexting') that they are often not comfortable with. Most parents/carers do not talk to their children about issues such as sexting and need help to understand online culture to set appropriate boundaries for their children.

A whole school approach has significant potential to tackle issues of online bullying and abuse. This includes embedding online bullying as a core component of the school curriculum (including within Relationships, Sexual Health and Parenthood education (RSHP), supporting children who are experiencing online bullying outside of school, and providing teacher training to teachers to effectively recognise and handle cases of cyberbullying, coercion and peer pressure. It is also clear that education services should include the unintended consequences of self-generated content and address the privacy risks that children may face in their use of online media within RSHP education.

Together recommends that RSHP education strategies are culturally sensitive and take into account the multiple influencing factors (such as emotional literacy, consent, pornography, attitudes, gender equality and abuse and exploitation) and the need for age and stage appropriate learning within a coordinated long-term approach.