Normal People couldn’t be further from porn – but it still makes me worry about my son’s sex education

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As a mother, the failure of school sex education to explain pornography worries me a lot more than Connell slipping off his school tie in the BBC drama

A now-infamous debate erupted on Irish phone-in show Liveline last week when a listener named Mary phoned in to complain that scenes of the BBC adaptation of Normal People were “something you’d expect to see in a porno movie”.

The show’s (many) sex scenes champion healthy communication and comfort in a way rarely seen on screen. Connell asks Marianne if she’s OK, wears a condom and Marianne has a physiologically plausible orgasm.

Admittedly, the bar is pretty low. Main man Connell has been heralded on Twitter as the “CEO of consent” and the scenes had their own “intimacy coordinator” to protect the actors.

Looking at the evidence, I fear Mary would struggle in finding an adult film doppelganger of Normal People. Mainstream porn, despite its ever-increasing prevalence, does not look like this. If only it did.

As a mother to a son growing up in a society where plans to improve sex education are continually scrapped and withheld, I am aware some form of internet porn will likely be the introduction to his sexuality, and this worries me a lot more than Connell slipping off his school tie did Mary.

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New sex education guidance will be compulsory from September 2020, the first update in 20 years, but no major changes are expected. The sexual landscape meanwhile has undergone exponential changes which have shifted a young person’s sexual education. In that time porn, previously requiring a credit card payment, has become free for all and easily accessible on any device with an internet connection. Mary’s “pornos” are being viewed by 80 million users a day.

A government report found children as young as eleven sourced porn to “learn”. There is “good” sex positive porn but it’s typically not free. The majority of easily available porn is not likely to form the greatest sexual expectations and habits.

In an analysis of 300 scenes of porn, 90 per cent contained some form of physical aggression, predominantly by a man against a woman. Targets of this aggression showed pleasure or responded neutrally. One third of UK women below the age of 40 have experienced unwanted slapping, choking or gagging during consensual sex.

Porn doesn’t terrify me as a parent, but failing to explain it does.

In the UK, 75 per cent of the public think that the impact of porn should feature in sex education lessons. Yet the latest government proposals contain only a passing reference, focussing more on revenge porn and again, worst-case scenarios.

Meanwhile, whenever sex education reform is trialled, it’s met with backlash that will harm children and drive them towards their own sources of information. Easy to access online porn where male condoms are AWOL, male pleasure comes first, and usually over someone’s face will inevitably fill the vacuum.

In contrast, the scenes in Normal People are the healthiest onscreen depiction of sex I’ve seen in a long time. Communication is the foundation and consent is natural, maintained and even erotic. Marianne has actual pubic hair and undoes her own bra. They drink tea.

If mainstream pornography was more like the sex in Normal People, I wouldn’t fear my son learning from it, I would invite him to and hope that he does. If sex education continues to be woeful and our children learn from their own devices, Normal People is the perfect substitute professor.

https://www.independent.co.uk

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