PORNOGRAPHY used to be associated with middle-aged men hovering in front of magazine racks until they believed it was safe to reach up to the top shelf, snatch down the coveted item and make it to the till unobserved.

Then came the 1990s series Friends and porn was ushered into the mainstream with chums Joey and Chandler constantly alluding to their porn addiction in what was packaged as harmless fun. 

Now, the founder of the Asturias Association for Sex Education, Ivan Rotella, says that children as young as nine are regularly consuming porn on their smart phones – a device which, according to the Spanish Institute of Statistics, is in the hands of 26.25% of this age bracket. 

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EASY ACCESS: Porn is now just a few clicks away

Consequently, a warped sex education begins before some even reach puberty.

“It creates a lot of problems,” Rotella tells me after explaining that any child looking up parts of the body for anatomy homework will be exposed to it. 

“Some don’t want their parents to touch each other after seeing it,” he continues. “Nor do they want to give kisses themselves or go to the park where other children will show them more porn on their mobile, usually the most obscene or peculiar images they can find.”

The porn-addiction joke starts to ware particularly thin though, when we are told that the numbers of sex offences and gang rapes are soaring. 

According to Feminicidio.net there were a staggering 60 gang rapes in Spain last year compared to 14 in 2017, and 18 in 2016 when the infamous Pamplona San Fermines ‘manada’ – or wolf pack – took place with five Spanish men taking turns to rape an 18-year-old.

This year, there have been 42 reported cases taking place between January and August 2, when six men raped an 18-year-old who had arranged to meet one of her aggressors through Instagram in Bilbao. 

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FRIENDS: The hit 90s sitcom took porn into the mainstream

Of the 134 gang rapes committed since 2016, 12% were either filmed or photographed, as though the perpetrators were keen to make their own porn movie with themselves as the stars.

But while Rotella, who runs the Artursex program to educated teenagers, agrees some offenders may want to imitate porn, that doesn’t mean porn has actually driven the crime. 

“They may prove a link in the future, but it hasn’t been done yet,” he says. 

Gang rapes are generally committed by a younger demographic than similar crimes committed by an individual. 

The average age is 25, according to the Spanish Ministry of the Interior. They are also less likely than the lone offender to have a notable criminal record, and more likely to be Spanish than foreign.

There is a pattern to these crimes too: they are frequently committed after fiestas or at weekends, suggesting that the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality has been exacerbated by drink and drugs.

But like Rotella, Andrea Giménez-Salina, president of the Foundation for Applied Research into Crime and Security, is loath to draw conclusions. 

“Recently there has been a lot of talk relating pornography to these attacks, but there is no empirical evidence to support this,” she tells me. 

Rotella believes the rise in gang rape is probably down to more victims feeling able to report it. But he does make a tenuous link between porn on tap and sex offences when he says, “Proper sex education in schools would decrease gender violence and sex attacks,” adding that porn distorts young people’s view of what might be pleasurable or acceptable because it is pure fantasy.

FANTASY: Porn shouldn’t be a handbook for sex say experts

He goes on to draw parallels with science fiction. “If a child watching Spiderman understands it as a climbing manual, they’re going to have problems. Pornography is entertainment, not a handbook for sex,” he says. 

“The only solution is to educate our children. People think sex education is about condoms and orgasms. It’s not. It’s about getting young people to understand their bodies, accept themselves and express themselves and it’s about respect and communication.”

Ana Fernández Alonso, director of the sexology department at Oviedo University, goes further, explaining that it is not enough to have sex education thrown in with another subject.  

“It needs to be taught by someone qualified,” she says. “To think anyone can teach it because we are all sexual beings is like thinking we can all be cardiologists because we all have a heart.”

Through the Artursex programme, Rotella and his colleagues visit schools to discuss sexism and homophobia with students, personal hygiene and sexual diversity with younger teenagers, jealousy, control issues and the risks of social media with pre-teens.

They also look at alternative endings to traditional fairy tales with the very young. 

“It should start at the age of three,” says Rotella, “like any other subject.”

Back in January this year, the PSOE’s Ministry of Education was proposing to include sex education as part of a reform bill, enraging elements on the right, such as the Madrid region’s Vox candidate Rocío Monasterio who claimed that pupils aged eight were being introduced to bestiality in optional sex education sessions.

Rotella dismisses this as nonsense. “We have had complaints from Vox, but they have no idea what they are talking about. We never introduce material that the school doesn’t approve beforehand.”

In any case, Monasterio can breathe easy as the reform bill has been put on ice while Pedro Sanchez struggles to form a government. 

But as Rotella says, we haven’t yet had the chance to assess what effect exposure to porn will have on these nine and 10 year olds in later life – “Above all, on their relationships with a future partner.” 

It’s time to get the conversation started.

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