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Why is ‘pleasure’ sidelined when it comes to sex education?From When Harry Met Sally, courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Can porn really provide a safe, alternative sex education?

As we increasingly turn to porn for educational reasons, we meet an organisation placing pleasure at its core and focussing on the topics often sidelined as taboo

As a generation we’re hornier than ever. The Internet has democratised porn like never before, making it increasingly easier for us to explore our sexual fantasies, satisfy our kinks and relieve sexual frustration. PornHub’s recently-published 2016 review demonstrates the extent of this popularity – statistics reveal that, last year, users collectively viewed 91 billion videos spanning 4.5 billion hours, whereas the site received a staggering average of 64 million daily views.

Many of us, however, are increasingly turning to porn for practical reasons – a dependence which will likely be exacerbated by recent news that a parliamentary committee voted against compulsory sex and relationship advice in all schools. While state schools do at least tend to receive rudimentary education on the biological aspects of sex, the emotional connection and pleasure intrinsically linked to intercourse is rarely explained. We are taught to wear condoms, to prevent against disease and protect against unwanted pregnancies; by focussing solely on these (albeit extremely important) elements of sex, a subconscious message of fear is communicated.

One organisation looking to eradicate this fear-mongering and hone in on the intricacies of sexual pleasure is Hannah Wallace Bowman, lead creative at Love Matters – an international online resource laden with information on sex, love and relationships. Alongside a comprehensive A-Z of sex-related issues, the site focusses on other topics rarely covered within sex education. There are sections dedicated to the identification of an abusive relationship, lessons on the concept of ‘consent’ and lengthy sections on trans and queer issues – a rarity in mainstream sex education.

The idea is not only to focus on the biological elements of sex education – what goes where, how to practice safe sex – but also on intimacy, love and relationships. Wallace Bowman recognises that many of us turn to porn to learn about love and sex; a reliance which can be explained by the lack of focus on pleasure throughout the ‘conventional’ education we receive. In response to this lack of information, she last year organised an event entitled ‘The Pleasure Portal’, which brought together academics, sex workers and activists to discuss the stigmatisation of sexual pleasure and the potential benefits of pleasure-driven sex ed. Bowman’s intention was simple: “to engage young people around their sexual health and rights, openly and without shame.”

Crucially, the event gave voice to speakers rarely highlighted within mainstream sex education. There was Sarian Karim-Kamara, a survivor of FGC (Female Genital Cutting) who uses her own painful experience in order to educate and empower others. Not only did Karim-Kamara highlight the ongoing prominence of the nasty, unnecessary mutilations which continue to take place worldwide, she also highlighted that her story makes her no less deserving of sexual pleasure than anybody else. Hers was one of many shared experiences – there were attendees who had been forced to flee their home countries due to their sexuality, yet were spurred on by these tragedies to provide hope and guidance for those suffering in similar circumstances.

Whilst these activists are giving voice to those having suffered in the past, other women within the Love Matters community are actively using their platform to highlight stigmatised communities. Charlotte Rose is one example – Rose uses her extensive experience as an escort in her work as a ‘sexual trainer’, sharing stories and tips for those looking to achieve sexual pleasure. After all, we don’t just need to hear about the potential for disease or pregnancy; we need, in some way, to be taught the joy of a great blow-job, the under-discussed pleasures of rimming and the occasional brilliance of anal – with enough lube and enough trust, at least. Rose admits being unsurprised that many turn to porn in lieu of sex education, arguing that draconian laws combined with a lack of mandatory status have “taken away teachings of equality and diversity.”

The stigma attached to promiscuity and active enjoyment of sex must be eradicated – the communities affected by this judgement are often denied the pleasures of an active sex life almost automatically. One movement looking to change this is Porn4PrEP, founded by porn performer Jason Domino. Recent medical developments have seen PrEP – an HIV prevention drug which previously had to be obtained through ‘clinic-hopping’ – finally given NHS backing. Research trials are now ongoing to ensure that PrEP becomes widely available, thus presenting a landmark breakthrough in HIV research and prevention. It’s worth pointing out that, even before PrEP, the blood load of the virus could be rendered ‘undetectable’ by ART (antiretroviral treatment), meaning that those being treated for HIV are able to have sex without any risk of infection.

“We need, in some way, to be taught the joy of a great blow-job, the under-discussed pleasures of rimming and the occasional brilliance of anal – with enough lube and enough trust, at least”

Domino admits that this kind of knowledge is widely swept under a rug of misinformation, and that he himself had been previously unaware of these facts. “I was in a scene with an HIV+ performer and was worried I would catch it”, he says. “Then, I learned more about the virus and that my partner was ‘undetectable’, which effectively meant there was no actual risk of infection.” Domino began taking PrEP to keep himself safe but later went on to see a handful of his friends contract HIV due to lack of sex education around the subject. “I felt so guilty that I hadn’t been more outspoken about the protection it had given me, which is why I established Porn4PrEP.” By displaying HIV+ performers in porn, Domino is actively demonstrating that this social stigma exists for no reason – he is actively helping a marginalised community reclaim its right to sexual pleasure.

Because society is so unwilling to acknowledge that porn is a key resource for young people worldwide, commercial porn is under little obligation to incorporate diversity or progressive attitudes towards sex in any way. This is being slowly altered by a wave of new industry talent – there’s Ersties Studios, a studio commissioning women to create porn for other women; The Clit List, a curated database of non-misogynistic porn; and MakeLoveNotPorn, a platform to which real sex scenes can be shared and viewed.

The growing popularity of these diverse platforms hints that today’s generation is focussed on varied examples of sex, love and intimacy more generally. Government fear-mongering represses education to the point that many of us grow up without understanding the importance of sexual pleasure. We may be aware of disease prevention, but porn offers a glimpse into a fantasy world free of consequence. Sites such as Love Matters are crucial – these forms of alternative sex education are vital to fully understanding that sexual stigma exists for a reason. Not only could this information lead to healthier sex lives; it could lead to a progressive, censorship-free alternative to the fear-mongering that lingers throughout conventional sex education.