A rising tide of pornography is engulfing children from the age of eight on the internet, a teachers’ conference heard today.
“For many young people, pornography now precedes sex and many will have seen hundreds of strangers having sex before they have any sexual contact with another person,” Helen Porter, from St Gabriel’s school in Newbury, Berkshire, told the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Liverpool.
Delegates demanded that teachers should receive specialist training in how to deliver lessons warning of the dangers of pornography as a result.
Mrs Porter cited research from the London School of Economics which showed that 90 per cent of eight to 16-year-olds had at some stage accessed pornography on the internet – many without meaning to..
“I know of a Berkshire school girl in year nine who was persuaded to perform in an amateur pornographic video at the age of 13,” she added. “As a teacher of teenage girls and the mother of a teenage daughter, I am absolutely sickened by that thought …
“Unfortunately, younger children can stumble upon wildly inappropriate material by entering an innocent word into a search engine.
“Young people are unaware of the inevitable consequences of their sexual behaviour. A 15-year-old girl agreed to pose naked for her 18-year-old boy friend. He took a few photos and they enjoyed looking at them together – just a bit of harmless fun. A month later, they split up and he was feeling low so he decided to email the photos to friends.
“You guessed it – they went viral and he ended up in court for distributing child pornography.”
James Shlackman, from Crosfields School, Reading, said the imagery available on the internet had changed significantly.
“10 to 15 years ago, the sort of pornography that was available online was the sort of thing you could find in a top-shelf magazine.
“Today it is very different. Much of it is aggressive, some of it bordering on abusive. It doesn’t show normal sexual behaviour but there is so much of it that to young people, without the benefit of experience, it appears to be normal.
“Young people today are being exposed to dangerously unrealistic portrayals of sex that, if emulated, may end up damaging the relationships they form both now and in later life.”
Alison Sherratt, a former president of ATL and primary school teacher from Bradford, added: “Very many of our youngest children are exposed to a wide variety of images of a pornographic nature.”
She said primary school pupils were engaging in “a more explicit vocabulary and type of games”.
“We need to send signals to our colleagues in every staff room so they can tackle the subject openly and bravely to help our children retain their naïve and joyous childhoods,” she added.
Teachers were also concerned over the practice of “sexting” – sending sexually explicit photographs of fellow pupils which have often been mocked via mobile telephones or email – which, some said, could take place in school.
They want guidelines as to how they react to this.
Another teacher, Niamh Sweeney, from Cambridgeshire, said books like Fifty Shades of Grey gave a distorted picture of sexual relationships.
“It is not an erotic book,” she said. “It is 500 pages of a destructive and violent and sustained relationship where a young girl agrees to be hurt while not enjoying sex because she knows he likes it.”
Mrs Porter said the union’s leadership should investigate ways of developing “age appropriate material” for use in lessons on sex and relationships education to combat the problem.
“It is crucial that youngsters develop an understanding of sex in the media and pornography so they can recognise the abnormal nature of these sexual expectations (aroused by the internet) and appreciate the dangers of accepting the values portrayed by the sexualised media,” she concluded.
Meanwhile, delegates at the conference unanimously passed an emergency motion opposing the Government’s plans to scrap annual rises for teachers moving up the salary scale from this September – and introduce performance related pay instead.
They warned the move would reduce living standards and put the brightest and best recruits off from entering the profession.