Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Update on Chester SRE work in 2013-14

Below is the Prezi I am using to give an update on my SRE work in chester this year. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Sexting Education Resource

Today I am sharing a free resource I have made to help teenagers think about the type of images they are sharing online and by direct messages. I class this resource as in BETA, it is just my first attempt at making these images and I want to reshoot the photos. Get rid of the cluttered backgrounds and I need to find a male mannequin to use as well. You can find all the images I use at Sexting Images Resources

I have tested these images in a number of lessons for 14-15 year olds. The way I use them is getting the young people into small groups and asking them to put them in order from most risky images to share to least risky. They create a continuum of risk. Then we talk through a number of follow up questions. 
  • Which images would it be ok to share on social network?
  • Which images might be ok to share by direct message, such as snapchat or MMS?
  • Which images should we never share?
  • Which images do you think could get people into trouble with the police?
  • Which images would be embarrassing if they got passed around school?
  • Which images would you worry about a stranger online getting hold of?
  • Which images would you worry about you parents/carers seeing?
Then a key part of the activity is asking the class to think about what is the motivation of taking or sharing an image. From my experience and from what other educators have told me, motivation is key. Young people can make more balanced (and hopefully safe) choices when they have thought about the underlying motivations. Especially the motivations of why people ask for these photos? what do they want them for? Are they likely to share it?

Already I have found some problems with the photos. Firstly they are all female and I need to sort out some male photos. Second I need to improve the quality of the photos. Thirdly I need to add more photos, such as photos smoking/drinking/drugs or doing crazy stunts or breaking a law. These photos will help to widen the activity beyond the focus on sexting to include other online pitfalls. 

If you are a schools worker, youth worker or teacher and you would like to use the images, please feel free to download them and use them. The only request I have is to give me feedback. If you create any additional images I would love to see them. Like all my work on this site I have released it under a creative commons license. 

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial.




Thursday, 6 February 2014

The impact of a 15 year old girl being made to watch pornogrpahy - Grace's story,

Today on BBC Three Counties Radio I heard an interview with 20 year old Grace talking about her experience of being pressured into watching pornography by her then boyfriend when she was 15 years old. She was incredibly honest and open about how she felt it had negatively impacted her. If you would like to listen to the interview it will be available for a week at the BBC, skip to 1 Hour 7mins into the programme or you can read my typed up complete transcript of the interview. In this blog I want to pick out a few of things that Grace said. 

One of the first things Grace says is 
So the boy I was currently dating at the time, was obviously at that age where he had been watching it since about the age of 12 and he had heard from some of his friends that they watch it with their girlfriends. So he came up with a suggestion to me and I said no and I kept saying no and then he just kept on pushing, so I then said “well ok lets check this out, I’ve never looked at it before but lets have a look at it.
The first thing that leaps out to me in this is that he nagged her into watching it, persistent pressure made her go against what she originally clearly said she wanted. To me coercion of any kind is never acceptable. It highlights how good quality Sex and Relationship Education must have a firm foundation of exploring what makes a healthy relationship. Beyond just encouraging the positives I feel the messages needs to be made explicit. It is never ok to force and pressure your partner to do something they do not want to do. At any age and on topic.  The more 11-13 who hear, accept and put this into practice this the less problems we would have with 13+. 

The interview continues. and she says it was the first time she had ever seen any pornography and her first impression was that
It seemed quite forced, that the women, it was kind of like [She was] just there to be used for it. No expression of love between them. And I think that was what was most shocking really.  
Now obviously one person's experience can not be used to say everyone who watches porn will have the same reaction. However I do think it is a useful window into how some young people are encountering porn. A strong gender bias is evident in lots of mainstream pornography. Female objectification and degradation is a common observation. An adult might see this and feel outraged or appalled at the sexism. But i believe we should not assume the reactions from young people, without the framework of adult thinking, will be the same. Would a teenage male notice the sexism? Clearly this interview shows the 15 year old Grace noticed it wasn't what she liked and she can now reflect on why. i personally wonder if she had the same awareness as a teenager or just the emotional reaction.    

i don't think this is something we can ethically investigate in a formal study. Showing various types of porn to under 18 and trying to measure their emotional and cognitive reactions sounds very dodgy. So the question may remain unclear of what is the impact of porn on a brain that is still forming compared to the impact on an adult brain. My personal fear is that many of the sexual inequalities and violence common in much of the porn industry could be internalised and accepted by male and female young people exposed to it. Long term implications of this could be horrific. 

Later in the interview the radio presenter asks
So when you watched this pornography how did your boyfriend respond to it.

Grace replies
Well obviously he wanted to try everything he had seen on it. and it just really freaked me out, it almost felt like he was a different person after watching it with him. It was almost like “am i not good enough in this relationship for you?"
I think this may be a common reaction and the boys desire to try out what he had just watched is something I have heard boys expressing in schools lessons. Lots of variations of "I just wanted to try it after it looked so good" or "I think porn helps me find new things to do to my girlfriend". Monkey see Monkey do? Yet without a deep understanding of the biology of porn sex many young people end up confused, in pain or injured. High quality SRE can help especially when we peel back how fake porn is and show how much preparation, stretching, warm up, lube etc is needed to film the scenes they do.

Grace is also explaining how it immediatly put pressure on the relationship. Her view has be altered and damaged by the experience and particullary she is concerned about what the porn says about her boyfriends opinion of her is. 

One question and answer did surprise me a little. 
JVSDid you talk to any of your friends at the time, any of your girl friends, to talk it through with them? 
Grace Not at the time no but having spoken to them after a couple of years they were going through exactly the same thing as me. And even in some cases it was actually the girls that wanted to watch it and the boys were like “this is a bit weird why do you want to watch this with me, this is my personal kind of thing”. So it just affected all of us really in different ways.
I wish the interviewer had followed up this question asking why Grace thought the girls wanted to watch porn with their boyfriends. Was it because they were enjoying the porn? If so why was their experience of porn so different from Grace's. Was it because they just wanted to be involved with what their boyfriends enjoyed sexually? Was it curiosity? Was it trying to shame the boys into stop watching it? kind of like an ultimatum of "if you're too ashamed to watch it with me, should you really be watching it at all?" I just don't know but Grace did say that some of the boys at least find porn to be a very personal and private thing. Would an equivalent be a partner asking their girlfriend to read out loud passages from 50 Shades of Grey or some of the explicit One Direction fanfiction. Is privacy during teenage sexual development just a natural normal aspect of discovery and exploration. I'm certain many adults would be worried about their partner knowing every sexual thought that pops into their head. 

Near the end of the interview Grace explains what impact she think the experience had on her. 
You kind of put yourself in the frame of mind that all boys want to do the same and it is definitely not the case. It is the case in some instances but you just get in this frame of mind that boys just want one thing and its so not true. But because I’ve seen that and I’ve heard of other things you kind of protect yourself a little bit and you don’t give yourself over as much.
Negative sexual experiences in someones teenage years are known to have long lasting impacts. I think it is impossible to protect young people from all negative experiences. Partly because what is negative for one person might be a positive for another. But I hope we can help give young people more tools to identify earlier warning signs and equip them to avoid some pitfalls. Overall I think a healthy level of resilience is needed amongst young people. It is misguided of adults to assume that what shocks us the most is what will damage young people the most. We have to listen to young people constantly to ensure the provision we offer help young people with their biggest issues not our biggest freak outs. 

The interview ends and they move into discussion with Jason Royce from the Romance Academy. They discuss a lot of aspects of the issue and its well worth a listen (I didn't have the energy to transcript the whole thing). Jason does a great job of exploring the issue and offering so positive steps. 

I was very impressed with the BBC for doing this interview as it is such a sensitive and volatile topic. Grace's story shows how clearly we need to keep pushing for better Relationship and Sex Education in schools, youth clubs and at home. Many teenagers get caught up in situations they don't feel comfortable with and with people who don't take one "No" as an answer and think pestering coercion is acceptable. I think this emotional abuse needs to be a focus of SRE if we truly want to help people. Pornography doesn't look like it will be going any where soon and young people will continue to access it. So we must help give them the skills to navigate and avoid the unhealthy pressures it can create. 

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Progress in updating government are guidance

This week we got news that finally Michael Give has consented to provide some government guidance on SRE issues like consent, sexting, porn and partner violence.

Michael is doing some thing very right consulting three key groups of the pshe association, Brook and the sec education forum. All three have a great appreciation of the key issues and I'm sure they will produce good recommendations. This guidance will be a great help to school.

But Gove is still saying that the 2000 guidance will remain and this new guidance will be more of a suggestion. With Gove's consistent claim we should leave it to the  teachers to decide what they will teach. Putting aside the inconsistencies in provision for UK young people. This seems to be the opposite method Gove has been following for the rest of the curriculum. He has looked to standardise what all young people learn of academic subjects in an attempt to raise standards. A nobel cause, yet SRE does not appear to enjoy the same attention/approach as maths and English.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/better-sex-education/10575080/Porn-sexting-and-violence-against-women-schools-to-be-given-new-guidance-for-21st-century-sex-education.html

Friday, 3 January 2014

New Year for Blogging

New Year for Blogging 

2013 was a bad year for my blogs, I barely posted. Not sure why. Maybe I was too distracted and busy but also I think I fell in to the trap of thinking every blog post needed to be a long post after lots of reading/research. Like this post in my SRE blog about 50 Shade of Grey in Aug 2012 or this one from my random blog about Cambodian Rice Paddy Fish Keeping in Feb 2012. Both posts took over a week to write with all the reading I did for them. Both posts are some of the most popular post I have written. So Last year I got into a bit of a rut with always wanting to write long posts after lots of research. I started 3 or 4 different long posts that I never posted in the end.

So in 2014 I am aiming to post every week even if it is a short post, like this one. 

Enjoy this 

Hey There Chlamydia - Parody video




Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Porn on the Brain Channel 4 Documentary Review

My view of the channel 4 show "Porn on the Brain" which is all about how teenegers might be being impact by watching porn online.


I have just finished watching "Porn on the Brain"  (if you live outside UK Tunnel Bear can let you watch this) a Channel 4 British documentary by a previous editor of Loaded (lad mag) Martin Daubney. In this documentary Martin looks to try and find out what is the situation of porn and teenagers. Now sometimes the show becomes a little sensationalist with phrases like "The internet brought about the end of innocence" but behind some hype is some interesting stuff. With Martin spending 15 years of his life dedicated to (soft core) pornography with his work in loaded his perspective on the porn industry is not naive, he describes himself as an "wanking expert". Early in the show he makes a judgment of how he views the changes in the porn industry. 

"Porn has lost its sense of humour and become something macabre" 

Don't let the alarmist sensationalist tone of this documentary distract you from the core message, below I have bullet pointed the key points from my watching I think this show makes. I finish with a couple of paragraphs on my views of these key points 


  1. The type of porn being consumed by teenagers has drastically changed in the last 10 years. 
  2. Their study using a Functional MRI scan of 20 self declared porn addicts showed an identifiable addiction response similar to substance misuse disorder. 
  3. The special nature of the teenage brain that makes it particularly vulnerable to addiction. 
  4. If porn addiction is real teenagers are super sensitive/vulnerable to porn addiction due to brain development and natural hormonal levels of puberty. 
  5. Their is a longstanding difficulty in proving connection between porn use and a rise in sexual violence. 
  6. No evidence that watching porn as a teenagers turns people into a sex offender. but clinically we are sure of a connection. 
  7. Internet filters always have holes, they are never perfect. They have some value to help parents reduce exposure but "we can't rely on filter"   
  8. Lots of young people turn to porn because their sex education doesn't meet their needs
  9. Parents of secondary school children need to have the "porn Chat" 


  1. The type of porn being consumed by teenagers has drastically changed in the last 10 years. 
    I think this has been clearly evidenced when you look at the history of the porn industry.   Porn Land by Gail Dines (who is featured in the show) does a brilliant job of explaining the historical changes in the industry over the last 50 years. The Sex Education Show vs Pornography show (also by channel 4) showed the same. Teenagers are experiencing porn that over 25s have not even heard of or imagined.
  2. Their study using a Functional MRI scan of 20 self declared male porn addicts showed an identifiable addiction response similar to substance misuse disorder. 
    I have no reason to dispute the findings of this study showing that these 20 people showed an addictive brain response to hardcore pornography. However, the scientist in me must highlight that a study of 20 people is not a large scale investigation. It may be a true representation of a significant proportion of the UK population or these 20 individuals may represent a tiny % of uk population. In summary whilst the results of this study are interesting a larger scale study is needed to prove the hypothesis. In particular I think a study would need to look at people across the spectrum of porn use. Equally i would be interested to see if any such addictive response could be identified in consumers of written erotica or is this just a visual stimulation addiction.

  3. The special nature of the teenage brain that makes it particularly vulnerable to addiction. 
  4. If porn addiction is real teenagers are super sensitive/vulnerable to porn addiction due to brain development and natural hormonal levels of puberty. 
    This section builds on a much broader scientific base, looking at teenage brain development and the fact that young people develop their reward centre before their risk control department is widely accepted. From my study and experience I believe this is undeniable, young people are predisposed to take risks and therefore may risk engaging in more addictive behaviours. But to say that they are at greater risk of porn addiction does require the acceptance that porn addiction works the same as other addictions/risk taking. The shows study was not broad enough to make this concrete but I believe it is likely. Again more study is needed but ethical issues arise when trying to create a scientific study of the impact of porn on children.


  5. Their is a longstanding difficulty in proving connection between porn use and a rise in sexual violence. 
  6. No evidence that watching porn as a teenagers turns people into a sex offender. but clinically we are sure of a connection. 
    I believe scientifically this is the weakest part of the show and the show resorts to anecdotal evidence and emotional stories. This is a real shame as it could be seen to undermine any scientific base the show was trying to build up. I believe the real difficulty with this topic is exploring what kind of connection exists. I think it would be hard to deny some form of connection, but is it a strong connection or weak. Key to this is the important scientific fact that causation and correlation are not the same thing. I believe their is a correlational link between violent porn and sexual violence but at this point I do not believe we can scientifically say that the link is also causational. It may well be but we have not yet proven this. If and when a causational relationship is proven we will still need further study to understand the scale and scope of porn's power. Are all consumers of violent porn on the path to becoming sexually violent and it is just a question of the timetable for when they become violent? Or are only a proportion of the population going to become sexually violent by watching violent porn? Sexual violence existed before internet porn and clearly this is a very complex issue. I am glad the show touched on this topic and was honest enough to say "No evidence that watching porn as a teenagers turns people into a sex offender." but equally we could be watching a growing problem emerge.
  7. Internet filters always have holes, they are never perfect. They have some value to help parents reduce exposure but "we can't rely on filter"   
    It was a short section of the show but i am glad they made it very clear that whilst internet filters have some advantages, they are blunt tools that never work 100%. For example I am writing this in Starbucks who have an internet filter. That filter blocks out this blog, so I can post new blogs but cannot view my own website. However, it let me watch the complete channel 4 od show which included lots of nudity and porn (I was in a corner, no one could see my screen, I had headphones in and I had the show playing in a small window). Internet filters are dumb, blunt and full of holes. Therefore they should be used with caution and not presented as a magically technical fix for a technical problem. I fear the governments focus on ISPs making filters the default is more of a popularity stunt then a genuine help to most young people. It is a great way to look like you are tackling a problem without having to tackle the underlying issues of bad Sex and Relationship Education in schools and a lack of some parents helping young people make sense of sex and relationships. Its much more popular to blame the internet companies then look at our school system and parenting in the UK.

  8. Lots of young people turn to porn because their sex education doesn't meet their needs
    This claim in the show lacks the scientific base of the shows beginning but it is such a constant reality of my work I can not help but agree. Outside of the show we do have significant evidence of the failings in the UK's Sex and Relationship Education. The Sex Education Forum does a great job of researching and collecting evidence of the true sex and relationship experience of most UK young people. It would have been great if the channel 4 show made reference to this body of evidence. I think it is telling that every sex educator I know actively tackling pornography has a common theme, BISH UK talks about how on Planet porn things are different than real life, on the show Jonny Hunt  talks about a skewed view of sex from porn and my own lesson is titled "distortions of the media". It's no coincidence that 3 sexual health educators have approached the topic the same way. From the ground there's a desperate need to give young people the tools to recognise Porn for what it is. a Blurred example and a bad teacher of happy healthy sex and relationships.
  9. Parents of secondary school children need to have the "Porn Chat" 
    I kind of agree with this point but dislike the attitude of having a single one off "Chat" instead I believe all parents need to be willing to have an ongoing frank sex and porn dialogue. It is not a one time hit and run job but a constant and consistent attitude of openness and honesty. Easy to say difficult in practice for many parents. 

In conclusion I think this show did a good job of raising an important issue. It was great to see some new scientific evidence (even though the study was small scale) of the nature of porn consumption and the brain. Lots of the arguments about greater SRE in schools have been repeated again from previous shows, news stories and the mouths of school based educators but they do not diminish by repetition. This message must be repeated and repeated and repeated until communities take it seriously.