Navigating the Digital Jungle: Teens and Sexual Health Online

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You know you thought having the ‘Birds & Bees’ talk was difficult? – try having it these days as digital tech has transformed sexual culture.

Helping teenagers to cope with this, as they mature, is not only a task for schools or parents.

It really needs to be addressed by big tech & governments too.

You can watch me speaking to Wilfred Frost on Sky News about a new piece of research by the Sex Education Forum Charity suggesting  that a fifth of teenagers say the internet is their main source for information about sexual health and healthy relationships.

The leader of the UK’s largest education union has also called for an independent inquiry into the rise of sexism & misogyny among boys & young men, saying it should not be left to parents and schools to police

Daniel Kebede, the general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said it was a ‘huge issue’ in schools & expressed particular concern about the ease with which pupils are accessing aggressive hardcore pornography on their phones

He said the government had ‘completely failed’ to tackle the issue, which is affecting boys’ views of women & relationships, & urged ministers to ‘take on big tech’ to ensure that young people cannot access damaging material.

Speaking before a debate on the issue on Friday at the NEU’s annual conference in Bournemouth, he said: ‘It’s very fair to say that there’s a real problem with sexism & misogyny within schools

There is a real problem with what young people can access via their smartphone with real ease.

It’s not just influencers such as Andrew Tate, but aggressive hardcore pornography which is really easily accessible to young people. This stuff is having a real impact, particularly on young boys & young men & their views of women and relationships

It’s a problem that I think that government has completely failed to intervene in. There has been no real regulation & it is causing a huge issue in our schools. There’s no doubt about that.

‘We can’t individualise the issue & put it down to problem parenting, or a failure of parenting. It’s very difficult when every other child has access to a smartphone to be that parent who says no.

There has to be regulation on this from government, who in turn supports families in making those decisions.’

According to Ofcom currently, 79% of young people encounter material depicting degrading or pain-inducing sex acts online before they are 18 & research points to the damage that this can cause

A new pilot sex education programme to help young people, parents & teachers have better conversations about relationships, sex education and pornography has been designed by the University of Surrey & the University of Bedfordshire.

Dr Emily Setty, co-lead of the programme said:

‘Addressing pornography in isolation will not solve the challenges faced by young people. Instead, we need to look at the entire ecosystem of sex, relationships & sexual development.

Young people are learning from family, peers, school & the increasingly complex world of digital media. We need to talk with young people about their understandings of sex & relationships – body image, consent, social norms & stereotypes that surround sex and relationships.’

Then add in Ai 🤖 ‼️🥹and you have to ‘talk and teach’ your kids about healthy and loving sexual relationships so they are not just picking up information online that can be misleading, dangerous and violent.

My thoughts 

Relying solely on the internet, particularly social media, as the primary source of information on sexual health and relationships can pose several dangers for teenagers:

Inaccurate Information: The internet is filled with a vast amount of information, but not all of it is accurate or reliable. Teenagers may come across misinformation or myths about sexual health and relationships, which can lead to confusion and potentially harmful decisions.

Misleading Advice: Online sources, especially social media platforms, may promote unrealistic or unhealthy ideas about sex and relationships. Teenagers might be influenced by unrealistic standards or behaviours portrayed in online content, leading to unrealistic expectations or unhealthy behaviours. Add in AI and it opens up a can of worms regarding healthy and realistic relationships!!

Lack of Context and Guidance: Unlike formal sex education programmes or discussions with trusted adults, and parents the internet often lacks context and personalised guidance tailored to individual needs. Without proper context, teenagers may struggle to understand the complexities of sexual health and relationships, leading to misconceptions or misinterpretations.

Exposure to Explicit Content: The internet can expose teenagers to explicit or inappropriate content that may not be age-appropriate or suitable for their level of understanding. This exposure can be overwhelming or distressing and may contribute to unhealthy attitudes or behaviours towards sex and relationships.

Privacy and Safety Concerns: Engaging with online platforms for information about sexual health and relationships may compromise teenagers’ privacy and safety. Sharing personal information or engaging in online discussions about sensitive topics can put them at risk of exploitation, cyberbullying, or harassment.

Undermining Comprehensive Sex Education: Relying solely on online sources for information about sexual health and relationships may undermine the importance of comprehensive sex education programmes in schools. Without proper education and guidance from qualified professionals, teenagers may not develop the necessary skills and knowledge to make informed decisions about their sexual health and relationships.

Overall, while the internet can provide valuable resources and support for teenagers seeking information about sexual health and relationships, it’s essential to approach online sources critically and supplement them with comprehensive sex education programmes and open discussions with trusted adults. This helps ensure that teenagers receive accurate, reliable, and age-appropriate information to make informed decisions and maintain healthy relationships.

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