How to Read Adult Content: Education

Recently, I spoke with Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals about her new book Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment. During our conversation we happened upon the subject of reading and analyzing adult content the way you would any academic or commercial text, and Tibbals commented that there should be more investigative rigor when looking at the adult industry. In anticipation of the book, which comes out July 7th, we’re publishing an article series on different ways to read adult media and content, complete with wisdom from people in sex media, technology, and academia.

In March, the Internet was all a-twitter when a professor in Denmark declared that porn should be part of the curriculum for 8th and 9th graders, in order to cast an analytical and critical gaze over adult media. According to coverage by The Guardian, professor Christian Graugaard believes it’s a necessity to educate on the subject of pornography, as such a didactic relationship with adult could mean smarter and more conscientious consumers.

As per usual, the comments section was a proverbial tennis match of not-so-constructive arguments, much of them mired in the seeming discomfort of having to deal with explaining sex and sexuality to the younger generation. Graugaard is correct, though; it would be a great step to teach fledgling minds how to read porn in all its complexities, and not take is as realism.

To the Danish educator, sex seems a joyous and positive occasion, and critical education that distinguishes adult media from one’s personal sex life helps to bolster healthy sexual literacy.

On the subject of education, performer and writer Casey Calvert says, “Porn is entertainment, not education. The problem is that children aren’t being provided the sexual education that they so desperately need. That’s how educators and authority figures can help – not by teaching kids about a better way to consume porn, but by actually teaching them about sex.”

“We just need to accept that life will never be exactly like porn,” says sex educator and podcaster Sophie Delancey. “We can still enjoy it for entertainment purposes and take inspiration from it as long as we don’t take it as sexual gospel and put in a healthy amount of effort into learning about sexuality from books, articles and other forms of sex ed.”

It’s kind of a two-tiered process then. On the one hand, there’s analytical discussions of pornography, and on the other, it’s unabashed and scientific education on sex itself, and how removed it is from the sex athleticism (as writer Kate Hakala said in an earlier discussion) one sees throughout the Internet tubes.

Hakala, who’s written prolifically on the topics of relationships and sex, suggests, “We also need to have a discussion about the one-dimensionality of certain porn. We don’t see all body types, genders, orientations, sex acts or kinks. Each new partner we have is going to have a whole new sexual menu, and maybe we have or haven’t seen that in porn. When we forget that porn has such a huge influence on our culture, we run into problems of shaming people for using it or not teaching people to communicate with it. Porn is a great thing. It helps many people feel good about themselves and pleasure.”

Pornography is pervasive and powerful. It’s a media source that instantly connects to so many emotional and visceral parts of experience, and it can be easy to forget it’s a performative fantasy. Having the critical tools to digest it is incredibly important; those same tools may help to uncover how one’s own sexuality functions, and how best to communicate with that part of being a consuming creature.

Performer and director Amarna Miller states, “the most important thing we should do is communicate with each other and teach our kids to be open with their questions. Talk and not be afraid of talk. Answer doubts, give our opinions and share the personal experiences, as if sex would be a normal part of our life. Because that’s what it is, or what it should be.”

“While it would some day be great if we could freely educate young adults on how to look at porn with a critical eye, I think the real way to change perceptions is to allow students to openly engage in discourse on the subject,” suggests Fine Ass Marketing’s Christopher Ruth. “Whenever universities cancel student events dealing with pornography due to community or alumni pressure, they are harming their students, whom they have an obligation to support and educate.”

It is a difficult discourse to introduce, and part of the problem lies in older generations being uneasy with how it will affect culture’s next of kin. If these testimonials are any indication, though, it seems that bringing adult into the classroom could be an excellent way of promoting not only safe and consensual sex, but smart sex as well.

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