In December, 2023, I asked my audience to participate in a survey about pornography use and masturbation behaviours during their teenage years. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who completed the survey and those of you who shared it with others. I had over 120 responses and collected some really interesting data. I also received some lovely, supportive messages from people.
I wanted to gather this information from the survey because I was invited to speak at Pornposium: Responding to teens encounters with sexual content online at the State Library of Western Australia earlier this week. The symposium was funded by the Australian Research Council and organised by Edith Cowan University, featuring academic, expert and community-led speakers offering a nuanced and multi-faceted perspective upon pornography, sexual content and young people.
The title of my presentation was “A Sex- and Pleasure-Positive Approach to Porn and Young People.” The premise of my presentation was that we know many teenagers are masturbating and watching porn, and we need to acknowledge that one of the primary reasons they do this is because it is pleasurable - the same reason why many adults masturbate and watch porn. And one of the questions I asked was, how do we educate teenagers about pornography while also acknowledging that masturbation is perfectly normal and without shaming them for seeking sexual pleasure?
One answer to this question has been proposed by many concerned citizens: Just tell young people that porn is bad and that they shouldn’t watch it. My immediate response to this is, have you ever tried telling a teenager that they’re not allowed do something? I’m also reminded of the incredible failure that is the ‘War on Drugs’ and how ineffective drug prohibition is. Simply telling people, adolescent or adult, that they aren’t allowed to do something does not work.
Unfortunately, some of these concerned citizens decided to make a fuss about the Pornposium. Specifically, they took offence to the fact that I am speaking at the event.
You all know that I am open to constructive criticism and good faith critique. But I am also a stickler for due diligence. Now, I have no doubt that the person who posted this operating in bad faith. However, this short post is so full of misrepresentations that I wanted to use it as an opportunity to educate about how misinformation regarding sex education is spread online. So, while this post got a bit of traction online (I’ll talk about that below), instead of engaging with them, I want to create some useful information for you.
Let’s break this post down:
First; the Pornposium was not exclusively “for teens.” The symposium was a free event and, as the press release stated, “Teens, parents, and sexual health and sexuality education professionals are welcome to participate.” It also stated that “parental guidance is recommended.” The way this user has selectively chosen to only mention “teens” is an attempt to imply nefarious intentions on behalf of the organisers of the event.
Second; in further spinning this narrative, they specifically mention “teen girls.” Again, the symposium was free and teens were welcome to attend. In fact, only one teen did attend. It was indeed a teen girl, but she wasn’t in the audience. She was sitting on the panel as a teen representative, speaking about why she thinks education about sex and porn is necessary for her and her peers.
Third; and this is pedantic, but I’m speaking for 15 minutes and then sitting on a panel for a question-and-answer discussion with the audience. Hardly a “lecture.” Again, the choice of language is to spin a narrative about how sex educators are instructing and indoctrinating teens.
Fourth; as mentioned above, I most certainly am not “lecturing about men’s sex toys, what men want, men’s bodies.” It is both amusing and irritating how confidently ignorant and incorrect these people can be. In an attempt to bolster their inaccurate assertion about my presentation, they shared some screenshots of other posts I’ve been tagged in:
Oh no, I’m educating about butt stuff and sex toys! You can bet that if this person and their followers are upset about sex education, they’re definitely going to be offended by these topics (spoiler alert: they most certainly are, and I’ll talk about that below).
Fifth; their last sentence is a final attempt to drive home the narrative they’re spinning. As mentioned, my presentation was about watching porn, masturbating, and ensuring that teens don’t feel ashamed for these things. I didn’t speak about sex at all, let alone “[teach girls] that sex is all about MEN.” In fact, I spoke critically about the messages that many teens - particularly teen boys, who are more likely to watch porn - receive from porn, one of which is that sex is about men’s gratification. I specifically addressed the exact issue that this user said I would be exacerbating.
This is when the fun begins, because people began commenting:
I’ll spare you the many more comments accusing me of being a “groomer,” “pedophile,” and “creep,” or labelling me “vile,” “grotesque,” and a “loser.” You get the gist.
Of course, all of these commenters are unquestioningly following with the narrative spun by the original post because they agree with the underlying ideology that sex education is tantamount to child sexual abuse. An ideology completely at odds with decades of evidence indicating that comprehensive sex education is one of the most effective ways of preventing child sexual abuse.
However, I want to highlight how the emotionally charged rhetoric of calling someone a “groomer” or a “pedo” hinders sex educators from being more vocal online. Not only that, it hinders bystanders from supporting sex educators, lest they be labelled “groomers” or “pedo apologists” as well. Shutting down conversations about sex education is their goal when they conflate it with grooming. It is an easy bandwagon to jump on for those who aren’t informed because nobody in their right mind wants to be supporting or associating with supposed pedophiles.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had comments like these directed at me. You might recall I received similar comments when I made a criticism on one of Jordan Peterson’s posts about not supporting sex education. At least on Peterson’s posts the commenters were leaving their baseless accusations directly underneath my own comment. The coward who made this particular post about the Pornposium didn’t even tag me, I had to be informed about it by colleague.
If you're looking for a comprehensive breakdown of this phenomenon of certain concerned citizens pushing the ideology that sex education is akin to grooming, I recommend checking out the following video, Who Are The Real “Groomers”?, by the people at Some More News:
Apologies for the extra long blog post this week. To reiterate, my intention sharing all this with you is to advocate for sex education, share with you a bit of behind the scenes of what is happening with sex educators, and help you identify the ideology when users like the one who made this post try to spin their narrative.
Thanks for supporting me and work. Look out for an upcoming blog post where I’ll share some of the data from the survey you all so generously completed. It was super fascinating and I’m very grateful.