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‘A lesson on an orgasm! Imagine!’: Pornography as Sex(y) Education

Williams, Helen (2024) ‘A lesson on an orgasm! Imagine!’: Pornography as Sex(y) Education. In: FES Faculty Conference, 10 Jun 2024, University of Sunderland. (Unpublished)

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


In 1988, Michelle Fine drew attention to the ‘missing discourse of desire’ for young women in formal sex and relationship education (SRE). Little has changed in the intervening decades. Despite consistent reports from young people that they would find pro-pleasure information valuable and evidence that demonstrates the utility of incorporating sexual pleasure in the curriculum, particularly in terms of sexual health outcomes (e.g. Zaneva et al, 2022), there remains a focus on ‘plumbing and prevention’ (Lenskyj, 1990) in compulsory school-based SRE. When formal SRE does not meet young people’s desire to learn about sexual pleasure and the diversity of sexual experiences, they report turning to pornography (Litsou et al., 2021). This, in turn, leads to calls for regulation, legislation and more recently, the teaching of ‘porn literacy’ while neglecting the motivations for porn consumption and its perceived usefulness for young consumers.
This paper presents data from interviews and focus groups with young people on their experiences and perceptions of pornography and identifies three interlinked discourses – porn as pressure, porn as pretend and porn as pedagogy. The latter will form the basis of this paper.
While the young men were open about their interactions with porn, there was no similar discourse of the educative potential of pornography or its links to pleasure for young women. It is argued here that a lack of access to the ‘pure pleasure’ depicted in porn and the absence of pleasure-based teaching for young women has a negative effect on their sexual subjectivity and their expectation of sexual satisfaction. This, combined with long-standing sexual double standards and endemic slut-shaming in contemporary society, works to stifle young women’s ability to express sexual desire in authentic ways.
This paper takes an interdisciplinary approach and blends Gender Studies, Education and Media Studies to critique the assumption that sex can be taught in the same way as any other topic. While much on this topic argues for further restriction, this paper considers the usefulness of pornography as a lens through which to advocate for more inclusive, pro-pleasure pedagogy for SRE.

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Depositing User: Helen Williams


Item ID: 17716

Users with ORCIDS

ORCID for Helen Williams: ORCID iD

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Date Deposited: 25 Jun 2024 13:02
Last Modified: 25 Jun 2024 13:02


Author: Helen Williams ORCID iD

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Faculty of Education and Society > School of Social Sciences


Social Sciences

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