On the first day of the 2020 Alabama legislative session, the Senate passed a resolution that recognizes pornography as a public health crisis. As an organization that advocates tirelessly for access to sexual health education and services for the youth of Alabama, the Alabama Campaign for Adolescent Sexual Health believes a lack of sexual health education that is medically accurate, inclusive, and free of bias and shame is the real problem.

There is no doubt from the research that pornography has become more easily accessible, that young people are viewing it at a younger age, that it often depicts violence as a sexual norm, and that it reduces the personhood of those being objectified and abused.

These things can be damaging to how young people view sex and relationships. However, the answer is not to proclaim pornography as a public health crisis, but rather to invest in education that portrays sex and relationships in a healthy light.

Our suggestion would be to ensure every young person in Alabama receives comprehensive, longitudinal, ageappropriate sexual health education in school. Yes, we are suggesting sexual health education begin in kindergarten by discussing “good touch” and “bad touch,” having conversations about consent, and empowering children to take agency over their own bodies and to confide in trustworthy adults— all proven ways to reduce sexual assault of young people. These are also already required topics in the Alabama legislature approved Erin’s Law and the Alabama State Department of Education Health Course of Study, but there is no standard for what’s taught and no monitoring to ensure implementation.

We are suggesting that sexual health education continues in elementary school with topics ranging from how to be a good friend, building relationships, and how to talk to someone about something you saw that was uncomfortable or confusing. The fact is this: the average age of a child who first sees porn is 11 years old.

As children reach their teen years, sexual health education should continue into middle school with conversations about puberty in co-educational learning spaces. Younger teens should understand what they themselves and peers of a different gender are experiencing. These learning experiences build empathy and destigmatizes topics such as menstruation. We also want middle schoolers to know that their feelings about sex and romantic relationships are normal, and that all sexual and gender identities are valid (which reduces bullying).

Sexual health education should continue into high school, where necessary conversations about sex can go beyond disease and pregnancy prevention and include discussions of consent, respect, boundaries, and personal responsibility. Young people are human beings who will very likely engage in sexual activity at some time in their lives. Whether on their prom night or their wedding night, and as adults, we should want those experiences to be healthy and fulfilling, not damaging and shameful.

If young people in Alabama and across America were to receive this kind of sexual health education, pornography wouldn’t be that interesting. Instead of porn offering an opportunity to witness a taboo act that’s never discussed, it could be understood as what it is: an often-distorted and unhealthy version of sex.

Perhaps if we could implement and monitor those Alabama laws and regulations that are already on the books, then we could focus on real public health crises.