Condoms, porn, and teens’ perceptions of sex

Condoms

There’s been a lot of chatter this week about the new law in Los Angeles that requires porn actors to wear condoms. Most of the talk seems to be about its effects on the adult film industry or on the health of the actors themselves – but what about the implications for audiences and the public at large?

From a public health perspective, it’s a major victory to have the safer sex messages we give in schools and in our communities reinforced by a multi-billion-dollar industry. Whether or not you’re a fan of pornography, its audience share alone means it has a huge potential to drive norms around sexuality, for better or worse.

This last point is particularly relevant for youth. At a time when many parents and schools aren’t talking, kids report that when they want to know something about sex, they “Google it”. Let’s face it: intentionally or not, the accessibility of internet pornography means that this search often leads them to porn sites. Several sources have suggested that pornography is replacing sex education, including Cindy Gallop, in her 2009 TED talk (video’s language NSFW)

Can we give kids a more realistic, well-rounded sex education than this? Of course – and many of our Wrap MCs already are. Should a comprehensive lesson on sexuality still highlight how unrealistic pornography is? Absolutely. But if this law – a nod to the real-life consequences of sex – makes it easier to talk about condoms, and makes more likely that youth will use them whenever they are ready to become sexually active, then the people debating its merits should add “good for sex education” to the “Pros” column.

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