Denmark Wants to Show Porn in School — And America Should Take Notes

Denmark Wants to Show Porn in School — And America Should Take Notes
Source: Getty
Source: Getty

Denmark is known for taking a liberal stand when it comes to sexuality. It was the first country to lift its ban on porn in 1967, then in 1969 became the first country to legalize it. In 1970, the country made sex education compulsory. Today, one of Denmark's top sexologists is asking whether Denmark is ready to take its next step in sexual progressivism: bringing porn into the classroom.

Porn 101: Christian Graugaard, a professor at Aalborg University, proposed introducing porn into public school sexual education during an interview with Danish public broadcaster DR. "Instead of having sex education be boring and technical, where you roll a condom onto a cucumber, I'd rather have us educate our children to be critical consumers who see porn with a certain distance and reflection," Graugaard said, according to the Local

Part of Graugaard's plan, according to Newsweek, would be to implement pornographic screenings, readings and discussions for students 13 and up. His idea is to intelligently and critically engage with material in a classroom setting so that students can learn to differentiate what they see on screen with what they may encounter in their own bedrooms. (Graugaard couldn't be reached for comment.)

Starting the discussion: While what Graugaard is proposing may seem controversial, it addresses an uncomfortable but undeniable reality: As reported by the Guardian, one Nordic study found that 99% of boys and 86% of girls in Scandinavia have already seen porn by the time they reach age 16. 

Moreover, the Guardian reports that pornography is already a part of the curriculum in some Danish schools, and most students surveyed by DR would be open to the idea of porn education. The idea is not to simply expose children to what's out there, but rather to properly frame the porn they may see within conversations about sexualization, respect, consent and pleasure.

Sex education programs would do well to readdress how they handle (or, more often, don't handle) pornography in addition to the condom demonstrations and STI lectures. In fact, some already do. In 2014, the PSHE Association, Brook, and the Sex Education Forum released new guidelines for discussing sexting and pornography in U.K. classrooms, which advise educators that "teaching should emphasize that pornography is not the best way to learn about sex because it does not reflect real life." The U.K. is also moving to start sexual consent education as early as age 11.

In Sweden, similar efforts are being made as the country embraces frank discussions about sex at large. (Remember that viral penis and vagina cartoon?) The logic might be compared to teaching safe sex versus abstinence-only — addressing a topic head-on and analyzing its complexities is preferred to just pretending it doesn't exist.

An imperfect solution: However, some experts argue that exposing children to porn might be sending the wrong message. Chris McGovern, the chairman of the UK's Campaign for Real Education, told Newsweek, "It would cause an outcry among parents."

Choosing what to show is also a thorny issue. "Exposing even more young people to porn, especially those who don't want to see it or haven't yet for other reasons, isn't necessarily the solution," Debby Herbenick, PhD, associate professor at Indiana University and author of The Coregasm Workout, told Mic. "The idea of showing it in schools opens a can of worms: Which scenes? Which sex acts? To what ages? A path most probably don't want to go down."

Showing pornography in schools would also require decisions about what types of bodies, genders, orientations and sex acts are presented — a task schools might not feel themselves up to.

America, take note: Porn in a U.S. classroom? Chances are it won't happen soon. The United States has been historically slow to improve its sex ed standards. Only 22 states and the District of Columbia require public schools to teach sex ed at all, and only 19 of those require that the material taught be medically accurate. Meanwhile, abstinence-only education, still taught in many American classrooms, has been proven to be ineffective. 

Meanwhile, porn education advocates like Cindy Gallop say young children are exposed to sexual media, including pornography, at as young as age 8. It seems odd to leave out such a huge and influential part of modern sexuality.

"What young people need is sexuality education that includes information about sexual behavior, love, birth control, STIs, sexual orientation, gender identity, pleasure, responsibility, communication, intimacy, and relationship skills," Herbenick told Mic. "Age and developmentally-appropriate media literacy, related to not just porn but mainstream movies and music too, can play a role."

So do we need to be streaming X-rated videos for 8th graders? That's up for debate. "I do think that parents and educators can talk about real sex versus porn sex without showing it," Herbenick noted. 

But Denmark is making an important stand for a kind of sex education that actually reflects our lives — by acknowledging porn exists and making sure teens who view it do so in the safest, smartest way possible.

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Kate Hakala

Kate is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Mic. A former editor of Nerve, her writing has also appeared in the The New York Times, Playboy, Refinery29, Salon, and The Daily Dot. On most days she is thinking of Louis C.K.

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