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Porn expert offers to teach Northern Ireland kids about web danger

By Claire McNeilly

Published 25/08/2016

Lawyer Mary Sharpe
Lawyer Mary Sharpe

An internet pornography expert has offered to deliver classes to Northern Ireland children on the dangers of addiction to sexually explicit material.

Lawyer Mary Sharpe hit the headlines recently after it emerged that Tony Blair's former school will provide "porn awareness" classes amid fears over the negative effects sexually explicit material can have on pupils.

Fettes College in Edinburgh, one of the UK's most exclusive public schools, has invited Ms Sharpe, founder of the Reward Foundation charity, to address students there at the beginning of next year.

And now plans have emerged to introduce such classes here in an attempt to wean pupils off pornography by warning them about the potential consequences of their addiction.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Darryl Mead, Ms Sharpe's husband and chair of the Reward Foundation, which promotes healthy relationships, told the Belfast Telegraph that Northern Ireland was on the agenda.

"Mary and I give joint presentations in schools and we're very interested in doing training sessions across the province," said Dr Mead.

"We haven't yet got any specific institutions in mind, but Northern Ireland is on our to-do list and we're very open to giving classes in primary, secondary and grammar schools.

"We're also happy to give separate sessions to boys and girls because they have different requirements when it comes to learning about pornography."

Ms Sharpe told Radio Ulster's Nolan Show yesterday that, although they currently deal primarily with 16 and 17-year-olds, they aimed to start educating children in their final year of primary school.

"Research shows that the average age kids start looking for naked pictures and the like is aged 10," she said.

"Today the internet gives them everything at the click of a mouse or swipe of a finger, so if we want to protect the kids' brains when they're at their most malleable, we've got to make them aware now."

The barrister said that while "just looking at porn and nudity wouldn't do any harm", there was a danger of it becoming a gateway to more explicit, potentially damaging material.

"The brain gets bored with something after it's seen it a few times and it demands novelty and it's very easy to escalate to hardcore porn and violent porn and kids get aroused by that," she said. "They're learning all the wrong stuff from the internet and it does them damage."

Depression and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) were just two of the mental health issues Ms Sharpe linked to pornography.

She also referred to a growing problem of erectile dysfunction among 20-year-old men "because they've been looking at porn in their teens".

"They stop being excited by their partners or by normal sexual arousal because their brains are used to hyper-arousing stimulus on the internet," she said.

"Instead of learning about how to chat up girls and hold hands and do all the normal gentle steps, they're being exposed to extreme material."

DUP MLA Nelson McCausland welcomed the move to make the classes available to local children, saying it was "right that young people should be educated about the dangers of pornography".

"There is great awareness today about the pernicious nature of such material and the way in which it affects the human brain," he said. "Anything that helps young people to have a more healthy lifestyle and be aware of such dangers is a good thing."

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