From the age of 11, porn distorted my image of women. Now, I’m a consent educator
Daniel is a youth advocate and consent educator. He says before we talk about consent, we need to address pornography’s pervasive message that women should and can be disrespected.
Like many people I know, I didn’t receive sex-ed, or a sexual education, at school or at home. But I did learn about sex and consent. I received a comprehensive education from when I was 11 and first exposed to pornography.
It was an education that lasted 10 years and shaped my attitudes towards men, women, bodies, violence, respect, intimacy, consent and pleasure. I didn’t recognise the influence it had on me until I stopped consuming the content.
I realised watching porn was incompatible with my values of justice and equality and my intention to be respectful and empathetic. Watching porn meant my attitudes had been unconsciously moulded in adolescence.
Porn shaped the perspective that women are objects who exist for male entertainment. A toxic idea reinforced by the performative conversations I was having with my mates at the time.
As my pornography consumption escalated, so did my imagination's ability to see women and girls as sex objects. Everyday scenarios quickly became a potential sex scene in my mind.
Now as an educator, I give young men an opportunity I never had. To recognise this indoctrination instead and consider the benefits of embracing healthy masculinity and sexuality grounded in empathy and respect.
I’m motivated by the urgent need to humanise women and girls, who many of us tragically came to believe are 'sluts', 'whores' and worse thanks to the billion dollar porn industry algorithms.
Teaching consent and understanding mutuality
There is no simple answer to the sexual assault crisis and the attitudes that enable it. What I do know is part of the solution involves equipping young people to reject the distortions of porn culture.
After hearing firsthand countless stories of sexual harassment and assault, I have come to see that a focus on consent will be ineffective if we don’t address the cultural drivers that embolden male sexual entitlement and the dehumanisation of women.
If boys are learning from pornography that girls are their property to sexually act out on rather than be respected as equals, I’m not convinced learning to ask permission will remedy that power dynamic and entitlement. You don’t want or need consent from someone you don’t respect. Consent is also vulnerable to relational and cultural pressures and can be manipulated through power or a perceived lack of options.
Mutuality surpasses consent. Mutuality is established and enjoyed from a recognition of equality between persons. Reciprocity matters. When your sexuality is grounded in mutuality you care about your partner’s desires, not just your own.
Unlearning the lessons of pornography
Boys are having their sexuality shaped by pornography. It’s their most powerful educator and we have to ask ourselves, 'What lessons are they learning?'
Especially when nearly half of Australian children between the ages of 9–16 experience regular exposure to pornography. It's material that is increasingly violent, sexist and racist.
I see boys being trained to take pleasure in sexual violence and pushing past consent. The stories and news reports continue to confirm this reality.
The porn industry routinely depicts violation of consent and boundaries. This explains why some boys confess their confusion to me when their sexual partner 'isn’t up for it', when 'the girls in porn do it but my girlfriend isn’t keen'. So they pressure them thinking that the problem is with her.
While they know she hasn’t consented, they don’t understand why because that’s not how they learned about sex. In pornography, they see women who are always sexually available or whose ‘no’ doesn’t really mean 'no'.
Porn’s propaganda is persuasive, especially for those going through puberty in a digital world.
Consent education alone can’t address the dehumanisation occurring on screens that is conditioning our sexual experiences.
It’s not that consent isn’t important, it’s essential. It’s just limiting. If you are consenting and you don’t feel good, or safe, then what? What’s missing?
In my experience engaging with boys across Australia it’s not as simple as assuming they just don’t understand consent. And if they did, that would address our worsening sexual assault crisis.
We need boys and adult men for that matter to not just ask for consent, but to want to and more importantly to care about what their partner desires. We need to teach boys to desire mutuality and reciprocity as much as they want sex.
Daniel featured in SBS Insight: Talking About Sex, April 25.