Evidence-based RSE

Relationships and Sex Education must warn children about the harms of online pornography

Parliament petition to be released shortly

The compulsory Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) to be introduced in schools and academies from this September must include clear warnings about the harms of online pornography.  It is imperative that both the dangers of consumption, and the harms in production, are covered in an age-appropriate and responsible RSE.

The evidence is now impossible to ignore; A 2019 analysis[i] of 135
peer-reviewed studies found the following negative effects: “regressive attitudes towards women,” “sexual aggression,” “social maladjustment,” “sexual preoccupation,” and “compulsivity.”  Pornography undermines any gains toward equality between the sexes and has a detrimental impact on body image[ii] and mental health[iii].

Furthermore, exposure to pornography is known to be woven into the process of grooming[iv]. Given this it is imperative that any disclosure that a child has seen pornography should be deemed a safeguarding concern.

Last year the British Journal of School Nursing found, “children under 10 now account for 22 percent of online porn consumption under 18[v].”  Consumption of pornography by children is a serious issue, if action is not taken now the impact will be felt across society in the future.

At a time when more attention is being paid to the supply chains that underpin consumer society, the trafficking of and physical harm to performers must also be considered- this will help deter girls in particular from entering the industry.

At present most organisations offering RSE fail to acknowledge the proven harmful effects of pornography. Indeed, some of the most popular RSE guidance used by schools is produced by a professional who has campaigned alongside pornographers against restrictions on the industry[vi].

Adults have a responsibility to set boundaries when it comes to the protection of children. There is no justification for failing to teach children about the harms of pornography.

We urge the Department of Education to immediately end the use of teaching materials which normalise pornography and to ensure that the evidence-based harms of consuming, and producing pornography are a core part of RSE.


[i] L. Monique Ward (2016) Media and Sexualization: State of Empirical Research,1995–2015, The Journal of Sex Research, 53:4-5, 560-577, DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2016.1142496

[ii] American
Psychological Association (2007) Sexualisation of Girls is Linked to Commo Mental Health Problems in Girls and Women with Eating Disorders, Low Self-Esteem and Depression; An APA Task Force Reports.

[iii] Raymond M. Bergner & Ana J. Bridges (2002) The Significance of Heavy Pornography Involvement for Romantic Partners: Research and Clinical Implications, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28:3, 193-206, DOI: 10.1080/009262302760328235

[iv] Kimberly Mitchell et al., Trends in Youth Reports of Sexual Solicitations, Harassment and Unwanted Exposure to Pornography on the Internet 120-122, JOURNAL OF ADOLESCENT HEALTH 40 (2007), at http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV135.pdf (last visited Jul. 20, 2017)
(on file with the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children).

[v] Enson, S (2017) Evaluating the impact of pornography on the lives of children and young people, British Journal of School Nursing VOL. 12, NO. 7

[vi]Press Association, (2014) GMT Face-sitting protest outside parliament against new porn rules, The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/dec/12/face-sitting-protest-outside-parliament-against-new-porn-rules
(Accessed 03.07.2020)