Session 10—Pornography: It's Not Sex Ed
Session 10—Pornography: It's Not Sex Ed
Families & Faith Development, Family Programs

Sexual imagery is so prevalent in advertising, on television, and on the Internet that even young children are exposed to it, despite adult efforts to limit access. Whether they deliberately seek it or not, today’s children are likely to encounter Internet pornography before they become teenagers.

Most parents and caregivers accept that sexual curiosity and sexual arousal are normal and healthy. They also know that pornography endangers children and adolescents. Porn may seem to present answers to a young person’s questions, yet parents and caregivers will want to understand, and to counsel their children, that pornography is a grossly misleading substitute for comprehensive, holistic, and respectful sexuality education. Porn is intended for adults and is harmful to children and youth.

This session will help parents and caregivers mitigate their children’s exposure to sexualized media and pornography. Participants clarify their own attitudes and concerns. They consider how porn can warp young people’s expectations regarding appearance, behavior, and sexual experiences as they mature. Participants explore how to broach the topic with their children.

MATERIALS

  • Chalice, candle, and lighter or LED candle
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Computer with Internet access and a projector
  • Covenant on newsprint sheet, from Session 1
  • Journals or paper, and pencils or pens
  • Handout 10.1, Recommended Multimedia Resources

PREPARATION

  • Explore the Recommended Multimedia Resources handout for this session. Update the links as needed. Expand the handout to include local resources. You may email the handout to participants prior to the session, plan to visit recommended websites during the session (this will extend your meeting time), or copy the handout to distribute in the session.
  • Preview Cindy Gallop’s TED Talk, Make Love, Not Porn (4:29), about the impact of pornography as sexuality education.
  • Look over the Taking It Home scenarios and decide which one you will use. Choose the one you think your participants will find most relevant as a group. You will invite the group to choose the age of the hypothetical child.
  • Set up the computer, test the Internet connection in your meeting space, and cue up the video.
  • Post the group covenant.
  • Write the Focused Check-in prompt on newsprint and post it.
  • Write the Perspectives questions on newsprint and set them aside.
  • Write the Reflection questions on newsprint and set them aside.

SESSION PLAN

OPENING (5 minutes)

Welcome participants. If any are new, briefly review the posted covenant, answer any questions about it, and invite a quick round of name introductions.

Say that this session’s topic is pornography. Say that studies show that, even if adults take measures such as limiting their Internet access, today’s children are likely to encounter sexually explicit images and pornography by the age of 10. Acknowledge that while there are strategies for keeping kids and pornography apart, this session will not address those. This time together will help participants find solid ground and workable approaches to communicate about pornography with their children.

Invite a participant to light the chalice while you share these words:

“There are some things that you see, and you can’t unsee them. Know what I mean?” A character says this in the 1999 movie, 8MM. Most of us do know what they mean. May we  prepare ourselves to guide our children, who will see images that can hurt them.

Now read this comment from an article in Clear Nude magazine (the speaker is describing the music video for Britney Spears’s 2004 song “Toxic”):

The first time I can clearly remember being shocked by a brazen show of the feminine form, I was 16 years old watching Britney Spears writhe on a shiny surface in that unforgettable sheer body sock, covered in strategically placed rhinestones. I was, as Britney said in other songs, “not that innocent,” while simultaneously “not a girl, not yet a woman.”

Twelve years later, it’s rare that I am shocked by nudity. The heavy-handed use of women’s bodies in commonplace advertisements and television shows borders on inundation. I am sad to say that I am used to it. “Sex sells” is the mantra of our generation.

FOCUSED CHECK-IN (10 minutes)

Invite the group to sit in silence, taking in the words just spoken. Lead participants in taking a deep breath together. Then ask everyone to reflect on and, if they wish, share how they might complete this sentence: “When I think about my child encountering pornography, I worry that _____.”

Invite participants to respond briefly, as they are ready. It is fine for there to be some silence between responses. Offer each participant an opportunity to speak or to pass.

SPOTLIGHT (10 minutes)

Explain that the group is about to view a TED Talk that was deemed too explicit to post on an all-ages YouTube channel. The presenter points out that when children lack access to comprehensive sexuality education, they can end up learning about sexual behavior and attitudes from pornography. Distribute writing materials as needed. Ask participants to pay attention to how the TED Talk makes them feel. If the video sparks additional concerns about their children’s possible encounters with porn, participants might jot these down.

Show the video of Cindy Gallop’s TED Talk.

When the video concludes, invite the group to share a minute or two of silence while each participant gathers their responses to the video. Invite people to journal, as they are moved, with any thoughts, feelings, or issues that have come up. After a minute, suggest they continue throughout the session to jot down their thoughts about reasons or ways for parents and caregivers to strengthen their kids against the harm of sexually explicit imagery and pornography.

PERSPECTIVES (25 minutes)

Read the following question posted by a youth on a Scarleteen discussion board under the topic “Porn or not?” Invite participants to imagine that they received this question via email from a youth.

Hey there, I was wondering if anyone is familiar with the photographer David Hamilton and his work? What do you think of it? It shows naked or barely dressed girls. . . . Some of my friends have been looking at the photos (and there’s even movies like that) and I was wondering if it would be considered porn or not . . . and if its ok to look at it. I mean there’s sex and naked girls . . . but it’s not the usual stuff u think of when u think of porn . . . it’s more artistic and antique looking, I guess? So would it be considered porn still or is it art? Thanks! Sorry if it’s a stupid question or this is the wrong place to ask it. Lol

Post the following Reflection questions, and give participants a few minutes to silently consider and respond in their journals to them:

  • How might you answer the young person’s question?
  • What’s your definition of porn?
  • Why do you think it matters to this youth whether the photographs are porn? What additional, unspoken questions might be on this youth’s mind?
  • Why might a young child be interested in porn?
  • Why might an older child or youth want to see it?

After participants finish writing, ask if any wish to share their definitions of pornography, or anything else from their reflections. When all have had a chance to speak once if they wish, say that pornography is defined differently across different cultures and peoples. There is general agreement that pornography includes graphic and explicit depictions (in words, images, or both) of sexuality, but such depictions are not always considered pornography, and there is no consensus about what exactly makes them pornographic or not.

Invite the group to brainstorm ways that pornography is harmful for children and youth. You may wish to post some blank newsprint and jot down answers. Here are some important ideas to include; you may also use these to prompt contributions:

  • No matter what your child’s gender or sexual orientation, porn provides unrealistic information about sexual activity and desire.
  • Pornography can create confusing, guilty, and uncomfortable feelings that young people are unprepared to manage.
  • Pornographic scenarios are unlikely to demonstrate respect, consent, or safer sex practices.
  • Pornographic images are created to entertain adult viewers and make money for producers. Most of the situations depicted are unrealistic.

Once you have established a solid list of pornography’s harms, say you will read aloud from an optional workshop in Sexuality and Our Faith for Grades 7–9, a Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ program designed to companion the Grades 7–9 OWL curriculum:

Pornography can confuse and misinform young teens, in part because the performers are adults paid to have sex for entertainment’s sake. It can be diffi­cult for young viewers to distinguish between the exaggerated, genitally focused sex in porn and the realities of caring, mutually respectful, whole-body sexual interactions off-camera. Young teens may assume that what they see onscreen is how they should look or behave if and when they do become sexually active. Depending on the media they access, the messages they may receive include the following:

- The consent and pleasure of sexually receiving partners (those who are pen­etrated, regardless of gender, but disproportionately female) are less import­ant than the penetrating partner’s sexual satisfaction.

- Unprotected sexual intercourse is the norm.

- Sexual encounters typically lack kissing, caressing, tenderness, time for arousal, and humor.

- Sexual encounters are typically free of mishaps, laughter, play, and interrup­tions,

- Sexual encounters consist primarily of oral, vaginal, or anal penetration.

- Sexually active people rarely deal with visible physical or emotional chal­lenges, disabilities, or problems with sexual function.

- Sexually attractive people are typically not diverse in terms of race, ethnic­ity, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, or body type.

Internet pornography is enticing because the images can be arousing and can satisfy curiosity. In addition, the web provides access to an endless stream of new, increasingly graphic images. Young teens may not differentiate between real sex, fantasy, and material that is intended to degrade and humiliate onscreen participants. They may not comprehend the impact pornography may have on their own sexual fantasies and real-life experiences, and they may not realize that people can be sexually desirable without looking like porn per­formers. If they learn about sexual activity from porn, they will not realize the importance of communicating about boundaries, consent, safer sex, and likes and dislikes. They will be unlikely to recognize the importance of sexual equity and mutual pleasure in healthy sexual relationships.

REFLECTION (20 minutes)

Pause for a moment. Invite participants to take a deep breath together. Then ask the group to reflect on the video, the chalice lighting words, the readings, and their conversation thus far. Say you will post and read a set of prompt questions, allow time for reflection and journaling, and then invite responses. Suggest that participants focus on a question or questions that speak most deeply to them.

Post the Reflection questions and read them aloud:

  • Once a child has seen porn, how can parents and caregivers respond? What messages do you, as an adult, want to share?
  • How comfortable would you be having a conversation about pornography with your child? How comfortable might they feel discussing it with you?
  • How might your household’s values or faith principles provide a foundation for a conversation about pornography?
  • What safety measures are you taking / can you take to ensure that children will not access any porn that adults may use in your home?
  • What can you do to help your child understand the difference between pornography and sex education?

Allow a few minutes for journaling. Then invite participants to respond, one at a time, without interruption.

TAKING IT HOME (15 minutes)

Say that today’s Taking It Home activity is designed to help make parents and caregivers more comfortable having conversations with their children about pornography. Make sure everyone has writing materials, and ask participants to write down situations in which they would want to raise the topic of pornography with their child or youth. If participants are stuck, suggest examples like discovering porn on your child’s cell phone or laptop, overhearing your child discussing porn with a peer, and passing an adult store together.

When participants finish writing, say they will now have the opportunity to practice a conversation about pornography with a partner. One partner will take the role of parent or caregiver while the other plays a child or youth responding to the adult, and then they will switch.

Share this advice from the Help Your Teen Now website. It is from an article titled “Were Your Kids Introduced to Pornography at a Friend’s House?” Read:

It can be easy to panic and try to stress to your child that pornography is bad if that’s how you feel, but sexuality is human nature. Shaming your child for viewing pornography can send them mixed messages about how they should and shouldn’t feel about sex.

Have participants find a partner and decide who will begin as the adult. That person chooses one of the situations they wrote down, explains it to their partner, and begins a conversation as though their partner were their child in that situation. The “adult” and “child” should talk for about two minutes. After that time, invite pairs to switch roles, giving the other partner a chance to be the adult and start a conversation using one of their own situations. Stop the pairs again after two minutes.

If you have time, instruct participants to find a new partner and role-play two more conversations. In their second turn as the adult, participants can repeat the same situation they chose before or try a new one.

Reconvene the group. Process this exercise by posing the following questions, inviting participants to think or journal about these questions:

  • What from this role play might help you effectively open a conversation about porn with your child?
  • What “do’s” and “don’t’s” did you discover that will help you?
  • What aspects of your role play were difficult for you? Why?

Invite people to respond as they are moved. When all who wish to have spoken, invite them to shape their “take home” learning into an action they can commit to. Read these questions aloud:

  • How will you begin to engage your children in conversations about pornography?
  • What is one action you can take to become more aware of your own attitudes and behaviors regarding pornography?
  • What is a conversation you need to have with a partner or trusted friend?

Invite participants to answer this next question on paper:

  • What promise can you make now for something you will do, between now and our next meeting, to foster clear and healthy communication about pornography with your child?

CLOSING (5 minutes)

Share the following quotation from the Protect Your Kids website:

Pornography’s pull is powerful, and even really good kids get caught in its trap.

When parents discover their child has been seeking out pornography, they often feel a toxic combination of fear, anger, and guilt. The most important step you can take for your child’s healing is to first recognize and sort through your own emotions.

Why is this so important?

Your negative feelings can cause your child to feel a lot of shame. Shame will not only hinder a child’s ability to heal, but will often push them further into secrecy and addiction. So before you begin helping your child, please take a moment to steady yourself.

Invite a participant to extinguish the chalice. Thank the group for their participation. If you haven’t done so yet, distribute Handout 10.1, Recommended Multimedia Resources, for participants to take home.

For more information contact religiouseducation@uua.org.

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