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Porn analysis classes for teens are the perfect type of modern sex ed

Young people in the USA are being taught how to look at porn through a critical lens

Sex education began for me at the age of 14, back in ’04, via a handful of lessons. Our teacher was a short man transferred over from the Science department. He had clearly not signed up for a roomful of Doncaster’s giddiest teens and there were dick jokes, damp bananas and bursts of awkward laughter as he mocked mistakes and hurried us along. The only thing I retained from those classes was that Claire’s falsies rip condoms like nobody’s business.

The fact, then, that teenagers in Boston are now taking porn analysis classes in an attempt to educate the next generation about sex better than we all were, is incredible. While the kids don’t actually watch porn during the classes, as it was inaccurately reported in The Times this weekend, they are given guidance as to how to analyse it if (when) they do. According to the NSPCC, about 53 percent of 11 to 16-year-olds have seen porn online.

Porn Literacy (full name: The Truth About Pornography: A Pornography-Literacy Curriculum for High School Students Designed to Reduce Sexual and Dating Violence) is a five-week course for 15 to 18-year-olds. Around two-dozen teens from across the city are currently enrolled in the course, which is held outside of school property and hours.

Youth workers Nicole Daley and Jess Alder are the course facilitators, while Emily Rothman, an Associate Professor at Boston University, conducts class evaluations. Emily tells me that “the values of the curriculum are safety, consent and respect”. Both of the teachers are “extraordinarily skilled and experienced”, she adds and would never use sarcasm or mock the students, for instance, because it would be “antithetical to the values of the curriculum and to violence prevention in general”.

“In Porn Literacy classes teens can discuss topics like pay disparity between male and female porn performers or whether or not Bukkake is enjoyable for the woman”

Segments dedicated to revenge porn, sexting, body image and consent have been developed. There is a particular focus on both overt and implied sexual violence and aggression, as well as discussions around how the porn industry runs and makes its money.

As such, the teens can consider and debate various topics that should arise. So this might be pay disparity between male and female actors or whether or not Bukkake is ever enjoyable for the woman. Questions and curiosities aren’t just allowed, they’re welcomed. The aim is to encourage a critical eye; to train a new generation of porn consumers on what they are - and are not - watching.

That being said, Emily adds “this is not an ‘anything goes’ environment where the team does not appropriately shut down comments that are off-track. However, we would do that by gently reminding, not with anything other than kindness, ‘remember our class ground rules’.”

In my view, Porn Literacy classes are innovative, contemporary and incredibly necessary. They’re also a million miles away from the god-awful sex education we have in the UK.

Those lucky Boston teens will learn real, valuable lessons in a safe and encouraging environment. Not only that, but once class ends, they’ll have a group of peers who they can have continued discussions with. And in the future, when they either start or continue to have sex, they’ll actually know what is going on. They’ll know what rimming, and fisting, and ‘no’ means. They’ll know that porn arseholes are bleached, dammit.

My school sex ed was so bad that I educated myself the only way I could think of instead. Still a virgin, and still 14, I learned far more during a brief foray into the world of Internet porn than I ever did in class. On my parent’s dial-up desktop computer, I hid the download tab behind MSN Messenger and Habbo Hotel and then watched with the volume low.

It became a mini addiction until the computer got a virus a couple of months later (fuck you, LimeWire.) Way too ashamed to tell my mum in person, I wrote her a three-page letter, put it on the kitchen counter and retreated to my bedroom to wait for impending death-by-mortification.

My mum, as always, was great about it. She gave me a hug and promised to sort it (she did) without telling my Dad (she probably did that, too).

“Our boys need to know that just because a porn actor can last for hours and has a dick the size of a small country, they don’t have to”

Still, it signalled the end of my teenage porn adventures, which in turn ended my sex education. This only begun again when I began having sex myself, several years later. I didn’t know any of the boundaries of right, wrong and “OW that hurts too much” until my own gut (or other body part) told me so, right in the moment.

That is not a safe position to put a girl or a guy in, yet generation after generation are given just those three options; badly-taught sex ed, confusing porn, or learn on the job. Not one of these is ideal, but Porn Literacy classes have the potential to marry the best bits of all three. They can teach real-world lessons that sticky condom bananas just can’t. Our girls need to know that repeatedly taking a bare dick from the anus into the vagina has got 'UTI' written all over it. So does not taking a wee after sex if you have a vagina. I learnt the last one the hard way. (Seriously, hospitalisation with a kidney infection awaits if you don’t. Go pee.)

Meanwhile, our boys need to know that just because a porn actor can last for hours and has a dick the size of a small country, they don’t have to. They also don’t have to grab a woman by the throat or cum on her face to be defined as ‘good in bed’.

The last few months of #MeToo, Cat Person, Everyone VS Harvey Weinstein and even Babe VS Aziz have brought with them a crucial discussion about contemporary sex, consent, boundaries and aggression. Clearly, what we’ve been doing up until this point isn’t working. As Emily says, “sexual and dating violence are urgent public health problems”, and this is far from an American-only problem.

Porn Literacy classes would do the UK – and the next generation of horny, impressionable teens – a world of good. It would have saved my parents a fortune on anti-virus software too.