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The Next Frontier of Sex Ed: How Porn Twists Teens’ Brains

Someone has to tell young adults that porn stars are like WWE wrestlers, and that real sex with a real partner isn’t like XXX flicks. The Internet shouldn’t fill that hole.

11.29.14 11:45 AM ET

Remember hiding that dog-eared Playboy under the bed? Your first introduction to sex might have been well-written articles with artistically photographed nude women interspersed throughout. For most of America’s youth, those times have long past. Nowadays there isn’t much to hide, except maybe your browser history. Kids, often more tech savvy than their parents, ogle XXX-rated photos and videos before they are legally old enough to do so.

We need to talk about sex education.

Should kids have access to pornography? Absolutely not. Teenagers are curious, though. There’s no magic age when you have a sexual epiphany. No one suddenly has all of the answers when they turn 18. There’s a serious void and only the Internet to fill it.

It’s a problem that needs addressing. But first it has to be acknowledged. Sure, some parents would rather pretend their kids would never look at that stuff. But studies prove otherwise.

“I think some parents have their heads buried in the sand,” says award-winning porn star and sex educator Jessica Drake. “If they don’t talk about it, then this problem doesn’t exist. I think they underestimate what their kids are looking at online.”

And let’s face it, most school-run Sex Ed programs are just not up to snuff. In a best-case scenario they cover the mechanics of reproduction, STD awareness, and contraceptive use. That barely scratches the surface. Worse, some schools preach abstinence only or offer little to no sexual education. As of July 2014, only 22 states and the District of Columbia require sex education to be taught in public schools.

“Just like it’s been proven that abstinence only programs don’t work to reduce teenage pregnancy, I think ignorance in this case is not bliss,” says Drake. “This is a very real issue because technology is everywhere.”

We can’t rely on school curriculum to teach future generations about the birds and the bees. This cringe-inducing topic, often considered one of the less serious school subjects (think PE and Driver’s Ed), is glossed over.

Especially at a time when schools can’t afford to allocate funds to lower priority subjects. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “new budgets are providing less per-pupil funding for kindergarten through 12th grade than they did six years ago—often far less.”

Prolific sex educator Sunny Megatron wants to break down cultural taboos and open the conversation about sex in her new Showtime series SEX with Sunny Megatron. “There are parents that can’t say the word “vagina” without turning red, passing out, or snickering,” says Megatron. “And if parents can’t have these conversations—a lot of these parents can’t even have these conversations with their own partners—how are they going to have these conversations with their kids?”

Megatron took it upon herself to educate her own kids before they were introduced to sex at school. “I don’t know who’s teaching them or what they’re teaching or even how that teacher has been trained,” says Megatron. “Talking about sex isn’t giggle-worthy. It’s not shameful. And it’s something we all need to be able to do.”

While those parents who tackle “the talk” stick to tradition, let’s not forget that in 2014 a frank discussion about sex can’t ignore pornography. Yes, you read that right. Someone has to tell kids that porn stars are like WWE wrestlers, and that real sex with a real partner isn’t like XXX flicks.

“Pornography is not meant to teach about sexual education, it is meant for adults and has no place in the hands of children,” says porn star and UCLA grad Tasha Reign. But since it is unintentionally teaching our future generations about sex, this becomes a fiercely debated topic: introducing kids to sex and or porn too early might make them more interested in it; ignoring the obvious might hurt more. “I think Sex Ed is equally, if not more, important than mathematics or English,” says Reign.

Dr. Gail F. Melson, professor emerita in Purdue’s department of human development and family studies, has contributed to numerous publications about children’s development and written Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children. Dr. Melson says abstinence only training shows no delay in sexual activity.

“Broad based sex education programs that include information on contraception, safe sex practices, and the biology of sex, perhaps along with the benefits of abstinence, have been shown to result in having first sex at a later age, greater use of contraception, more testing for STDs, and even, into adulthood, fewer crisis pregnancies,” says Dr. Melson. “Therefore, regardless of a teen’s exposure to sexual imagery in the media, including pornography, evidence-based sex education can be beneficial.”

Education is a means of protection. Kids know better than to watch NASCAR to learn how to drive, but when it comes to adult entertainment this logic no longer holds true.

“Porn is fantasy and I think that kids need to be taught the difference between fantasy and reality, just like in video games or certain movies,” says Drake. “Obviously in a perfect world kids aren’t seeing porn when they are that young, but unfortunately the reality is that they do. It all boils down to education just like everything else really. First we need to educate the parents.”