Restricting access to pornography for young people is not the definitive solution to sexualised violence

EducationDaily
EducationDaily
Effective sexual health education for young people is more complex than simply restricting access to online pornography.
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In an era where digital landscapes dominate the lives of young people, fostering knowledge, resilience and digital literacy are paramount. To help create and deliver effective sexual health messaging, Sexual Health Victoria (SHV), a leading authority in sexual health education, underscores the importance of providing young people with the tools to navigate the complexities of online content, particularly in the realm of pornography.

SHV recognises the failings of abstinence-only education in Relationship and Sexual Health Education (RSE) and highlights its unsuitability for addressing online sexual content education in the future. At the core of this effort lies the imperative to provide robust support for young people in navigating the intricate landscape of a sexualised online world, rather than simply disregarding its existence.

Samantha Read, Schools and Community Manager at SHV says promoting effective online literacy skills is not just a necessity but a responsibility.

“We’re witnessing an unprecedented surge in online engagement, especially in accessing sensitive content like pornography. Our approach must transcend mere restriction; it must educate,” Ms Read says.

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She says that the experience of SHV educators over the past five decades highlights a fundamental truth: young people are adept at finding ways to bypass any technical restrictions particularly if they are motivated to do so.

Sexual Health Victoria has been a leading, independent, not-for-profit provider of reproductive and sexual health care, education, and advocacy for over 50 years.

Tackling gender-based violence

RSE tackles numerous factors underlying gender-based violence, including entrenched gender norms and sexual violence. Providing the skills to make ethical choices, whilst understanding of their legal rights and responsibilities is critical.

Ms Read says SHV recognises the varied nature of the issue, while acknowledging the significance of initiatives like the eSafety Roadmap for Age Verification as a positive step in the right direction.  The organisation asserts that a holistic strategy is imperative and advocates for a paradigm shift towards proactive education, acknowledging that technical barriers alone are insufficient in curbing the impact that some pornography may have on a young person’s behaviour and expectations.

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Nuanced approach needed

Recent studies underscore the prevalence of pornography consumption among Australian youth. According to research cited by the eSafety Commissioner, a staggering 75 per cent of Australians aged 16-18 have accessed online pornography, with 39 per cent encountering it before the age of 13.

Understanding the rationale behind young people’s viewing habits of pornography requires a nuanced approach.

“It’s not always about sexual gratification,” said Samantha. “Curiosity, education, and even loneliness can play significant roles. We need open dialogue to truly grasp the dynamics at play.”

Encouraging open, honest conversations

To address these complexities, SHV advocates for a multifaceted approach centred to teach consent, respect and sexual health education. By integrating these principles into education curricula and fostering open conversations, SHV aims to cultivate a generation of responsible and respectful adults.

By collaborating with a broad range of stakeholders, SHV’s team is working to usher in a new era of digital literacy.

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“Respect and consent education must be a cornerstone of our educational framework,” Ms Read says.

“We must empower young people to make informed choices, both online and offline.”.

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