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Being Safe Online
It also means that relationships are no longer limited to face-to-face interaction. Some people like to do sexual things through messaging, or through talking on the phone. It could be through writing things, saying things or sending pictures to someone else. 'Cybersex' is a form of safe sex - you won't get any sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from cybersex with someone! However, there are other risks to be aware of.
On 10 February, Safer Internet Day (SID) promotes more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones, particularly among young people. Learn more about how to be safe online on this page. Alternatively, visit the SID website.
Social networking and sex. What are the issues?
As online networks get larger, it’s good to be sure that you know who’s a real friend and who’s just a part of your network.
Make sure you know how to block people on Facebook and other messaging devices. That way, you don’t have to put up with unwanted requests or abusive people.
Some older people lie about their age just to connect with young people online. If you think they are lying about who they are or you are planning to meet up with someone, tell an adult you trust. No one should judge you for being smart and keeping safe.
‘Sexting’ means sending sexual messages, images and videos to others.
However, you should never feel under pressure to take part in sexting with anyone if you don’t want to, whether that’s your partner, a friend, or a person in your wider network. There is always the option of saying no if you don’t feel completely comfortable or are worried about ‘exposure’ (see below).
Also, it is important to be aware that being in possession of a sexual photo of someone who is underage (normally under 18), can be illegal, even if it’s a photo of yourself. This is because in the eyes of the law it’s basically child pornography.
A study conducted in London, UK, found a wide range of issues that young people are being exposed to when sexting. 1 Make sure you are aware of the following issues before you engage in sexting.
Young people are being pressurised to take part in sexting mostly by their peers or people they knew, rather than complete strangers. Having wide circles of online friends increases the number of people you can receive pressure or threats from.
Self-esteem can be affected because sexting uses images and videos that are based on a person’s visual appearance.
As more and more young people own mobile phones (and at a younger age than ever before), the number of people engaging in sexting is increasing. Facebook and other online platforms are being used less because family members are using them. Sexting via mobile phones is a more private, and therefore popular experience.
'Exposure' is when someone shares or lets other people see sexual images of someone without their permission. If you decide to send a sexual image or message to someone through the Internet or a phone, remember that they could do anything with it. Even if they keep it for themselves, their phone could get stolen or looked at by a friend.
If someone has sent you sexual images or messages, before you let anyone else see them, stop and think about how it could make them feel, or what could happen to them. Exposing somebody is a serious form of bullying. Even if you’re not actually giving the images or messages to other people, showing them can still cause a lot of harm.
Also, remember that owning these images in the first place may be illegal (if the person in them is underage), so you may be putting yourself at risk by showing them to others.
These issues affect me. What do I do?
If you have taken a picture of yourself, then legally, you own it. Therefore, if it’s been used in a way you don’t like online, you can report it to the website and get them to take it down. And depending on the law in your country, an explicit picture of somebody who is underage can be taken down by the police.
Try to find an adult, such as a teacher, youth worker or parent, to talk to if you are in a situation where somebody has messages or images that you don’t want them to own.
If these issues affect you, there are a number of websites you can visit for advice:
Meeting up with people you have met online
Some people meet their boyfriends or girlfriends online or through other technology. However, this is an area where you have to be careful. Consider the following tips to stay safe:
- If you do decide you're going to meet someone, take a friend with you and make sure your parents or an adult know where you're going and whom you're with.
- Make sure the person you're meeting knows that you've told an adult what you're doing.
- Go somewhere where there are lots of other people - a busy shopping centre for example - don't meet up alone.
- Don't give out personal information over the internet such as your real name and address. If you use social networking sites, make sure that this information isn't on your profile and that you know your privacy settings.
- If someone you know from a chatroom or forum wants you to send them pictures or personal info – stop and think. Why are they asking? Can you be sure they are who they say they are?
Whatever your views or feelings are about pornography, it is good to get clued up about it.
What is it?
- Porn can come in the form of sexual pictures, writing, photos, films or even chatroom talk.
- There are lots of different types of porn on the internet, and it ranges from quite mild stuff to things that are illegal.
Porn actors are acting!
- Sometimes young people feel like pornography affects how people think they should look or act during sex. The people in porn are actors, and as in any film, images are manipulated to make their bodies look a certain way. The way men and women look in porn doesn’t represent real bodies.
- You should never expect your partner in real life to do something just because you’ve seen it in porn.
- Porn videos take hours of footage that is edited to make the film look how the producers want.
- Porn doesn't show you how to have safe sex. Many porn actors do not use condoms (known as barebacking) which risks the spread of HIV and STIs.
It is different to real sex!
- Girls have complained that porn can make it seem like sex is all about the man’s enjoyment. For instance, it often ends after the man ejaculates (cums). In real life, sex has to be about both people.
- Some of the best aspects of sex are often missed out in porn - kissing, cuddling, trust, communicating properly with your partner and getting to know them first! You also might chat and a laugh, and talk about what you like or dislike during sex.
- Some things are shown so often in porn that if you learn about sex through porn you may think they happen every time, such as anal sex or ejaculating on their partner.
- Whatever you see in porn, real sex needs to be mutually consensual! This means anyone involved in a sexual act, whether that’s kissing, touching, oral sex or penetrative sex, needs to want to be involved.
Respect other peoples views on porn
- Lots of people find porn offensive – so don't show it to other people or leave it where other people can find it. Deliberately showing it to people to harass them, or because you know that they don’t like it, is a form of bullying.
You don't have to look at it if you don't want to
- There is lots of porn on the internet, but if you don't like it, you don't have to look at it. Filtering software can be used to stop your computer from showing porn sites.
- If someone is showing or sending you porn and you don't feel comfortable, ask him or her to stop as this is a form of abuse. If they don't, then you should think about asking an adult you trust for advice.
Be aware of legal issues
- In some parts of the world, there are age limits for looking at porn, so make sure you're over the legal age. In many countries, if you are under the age of consent, it may be illegal for you to view all pornography, whatever the type - pictures, films or written.
- In many parts of the world, some types of pornography are illegal, and you can get in trouble if it's found on your computer. The laws about what is legal are different depending on the country you are in. You can find this information on your government's website.
Help, information and advice about sex on the internet
You might find the internet especially useful if you’re living in an area where sexual health information is scarce. A study in Ghana found that 53 percent of teenagers used the internet to find health information. 2
Websites about sex can be really useful, especially if you want to find out about things that you're not taught in sex education classes at school, or that you can't talk to your parents about. There are a few things you need to watch out for though.
Make sure the information is accurate and reliable
Make the information you find is accurate. Crosscheck it with the information on other websites if you are not sure. A good way to find a reliable website can be to ask a teacher, or your doctor to recommend a good one.
Use the correct search terms
To find what you want using a search engine, you have to use the right keywords. For example, if you just type 'sex' into a search engine, you will probably find that there are a lot of websites about sex that don't give any advice at all, or link to porn sites! Try using words in addition to sex such as 'advice', 'help', or 'information'.
Most internet browsers have filters that are meant to stop pornography – they often look out for words about sex, and if they find those words, they might not display the website that uses them. However, this can mean that they accidentally stop you from accessing advice about sex on the internet.
Most public computers, in schools and libraries for example, use filters. Often, filters can be programmed to let certain sites through, so if you find that you can't access www.avert.org (or another useful site) at school, ask your teacher if it can be allowed through.
Filters can be turned on or off, whatever suits you. Most search engines have a button saying 'preferences' allowing you to put the filter on or off. To change this, ask the owner of the computer.
Don't be put off!
Okay, so there are things on the internet to be wary of - you can find false information, you can lose control of the things that you upload and people aren't always who they say they are.
However, the web can also be a really valuable resource for sexual health information. Almost anything you could possibly need to know about sex is out there somewhere without having to ask your teacher or parents.
As well as sexual health information, the web can put you in touch with other people who have had the same experiences and can help. Or maybe you've been through a difficult experience and want to use that to help other people.
- 1. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) (2012) ' A qualitative study of children, young people and 'sexting''
- 2. Borzekowski, D. Fobil, J. & Asante, K. (2006) ' Online Access by Adolescents in Accra: Ghanaian Teens' Use of the Internet for Health Information' Developmental Psychology 42(3)
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