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  • Narda Skov

Porn 101: What We Need to Know

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

In our 24/7 plugged in society, understanding what adolescents may be exposed to is more imperative than ever. Discussion of media literacy, including pornography, is vital for adolescents to develop a healthy understanding of sexuality and relationships. Pornography has become a de- facto sex education for many young people. Learning how to talk about it and give sound accurate medical advice about how this affects adolescents is vital.


Let's take a step back and understand what has changed for parents and educators in the past decade or two. Adolescence used to be a series of revealed secrets when it came to sexuality. Shocking or new events regarding sexuality were encountered or presented themselves and we had time to process them. For example, we heard a 'dirty' word, and we could walk home and process it. Or, we saw, or read an erotic passage in a book or received a sexy note in school, and we had time to process the scenario before having to encounter it again. Or, we found a Playboy in our older sibling's room and could sneak a peek, put it away and look at it (or not) on our own time. With the advent of the internet and porn being readily available, adolescents are no longer able to see one image without seeing multiple others. This dramatic change came in 1993, when internet pornography became public. That protective barrier between the sex industry and youth dissolved. There used to be restricted movie houses, catalogues or magazines that came in brown paper - which made it more difficult for a youth, if not impossible, to access pornography. Now through the internet - one has pornography in our homes all of the time.


Parenting IS different now. We try to encourage parents and support them in navigating this beast of the internet. It is not easy for any of us, especially for our youth. Being a young person has many more challenges than it did for today's parents and educators. It is different for today's youth for three main reasons. First, pornography is accessible all of the time. In 2019 most middle and high school students had access to smartphones or the internet and this access has made pornography (or sexually explicit media) available at all times. Second, pornography is now affordable and is essentially FREE and with constant access. Previously, pornography was only accessible via stores that sold videos or through the postal service. The previous cost of a VHS tape was anywhere from $40-60. Lastly, porn is now anonymous. A person can access pornography almost without anyone else knowing about it.


For many youth, pornography offers an unrealistic alternative to comprehensive, science based sexuality education, especially if comprehensive sexual education is not offered in schools. When there isn’t consistent sex education there is consistent availability of pornography across the 50 states. That scenario sets up a perfect storm for young people who are curious about sex education and there isn’t any to be found. It is easier for teenagers to watch porn than to receive sexual education in schools.


Currently, in the United States only 13 states require instruction to be medically accurate, and 26 states and the District of Columbia require that it be age-appropriate. While 37 states require that abstinence is included in sex education, only 18 states require educators to also share information about birth control. We need to continue to help young people navigate the landscape. We want to make sure that we include conversations about pornography and think critically about what they are viewing. We want our programs to include these critical conversations. It is important to have a greater sense of what is happening nationally. According to many experts and the statistics on pornography - it may now be the most prominent sexuality educator for young people. Many young people may see/discover porn well before they begin sexual behaviors.


These difficult conversations can be seen and discussed through the lens of Media Literacy. It is critical to help youth look at media, including pornography and sexually explicit media. Critical questions to ask are:

  1. Who created this message and why?

  2. Who is the intended audience?

  3. What techniques are being used to attract my attention? Sexual and violent images?

  4. How might different people understand or feel about this message?

  5. What values or identities are included or left out of this media?

In these workshops, Dr. Cydelle Berlin and Narda Skov, MPH, will take youth, parents, educators and other interested adults through media literacy lessons to gain a greater understanding of how to break down media images and messages about sexuality and relationships.


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