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Sex, Internet & Technology

Stay safe on the internet

Chatting to friends and people you know

New technology has created loads of new ways to make friends and talk to them. For many young people, chatting to mates on Facebook, by text, by BlackBerry Messaging, on forums or on Skype to name but a few, is an important part of modern life. You can increase the number of friends you have online and link up with more people.

So how does sex fit into this?

Lots of 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. This may be something that you choose to do at some point in life. Even if it sounds a bit strange – ‘cybering’ or 'cybersex' is a form of safe sex - you won't get any sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from cybering with someone! But there are other risks to be aware of.

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, BlackBerry Messenger or other messaging devices. That way, you don’t have to put up with unwanted requests or abusive people.

Some older people can even lie about their age just to connect with young people online, so be smart and tell a friend, family member, or the police - noone should judge you for being smart and keeping safe.

Sexting

‘Sexting’ - that is sending sexual images, videos or messages to others - is quite common among some groups of young people.

But you should never feel under pressure to take part in ‘sexting’ with anyone if you don’t want to, whether that’s your partner 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 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:

Peer pressure

Young people are being pressurised to take part in sexting mostly by their peers or people they knew, rather than complete strangers. Their wide circle of online friends increases the number of people they can receive pressure or threats from. 2

Self-esteem

Their self-esteem is affected (especially for girls) because the nature of sexting uses images and videos that are based on a person’s visual appearance. 3

Mobile phones

As more and more young people own mobile phones (and at a younger age than ever before), trends show sexting activities to rise too. Facebook and other website platforms are being used less because family members are using them. 4 Sexting via mobile phones is a more private, and therefore popular experience.

Gender differences

Sexting involves unequal gender relations among boys and girls:

  • Girls are being objectified and considered ‘property’ of boys. Girls that send partially naked, or naked photos when sexting are considered ‘sluts’.
  • Boys are requesting, and then storing and sharing pictures they have received from girls. At school, boys are using these pictures to get higher ‘ratings’ or status in school, based on the number of pictures of girls they have on their mobile phone. 5

Exposure

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, at any time. Technology such as ‘Screen Muncher’ enables sharing of private sexting content without consent. 6 Even if they keep it to themselves forever, consider that their phone could get stolen or looked at by a friend.

If your partner has sent you sexual images or messages, before you let anyone else see them, stop and think about how it could make your partner 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. Remember also that owning these images in the first place may be illegal, so you may be putting yourself at risk by showing them to others.

What to do if you’re affected by these issues

If you have taken a picture, then you legally 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.

For more advice if you are affected by these issues, go to thinkuknow or the Internet Watch Foundation.

Meeting people and making friends

Some people meet their boyfriends or girlfriends online or through other technology. But this is an area where you have to be really careful - get it wrong and it could cost you your life! Look below at tips for staying safe.

Meeting people through the internet safely 

  • It’s never completely safe to meet people you know only from the internet! 
  • If you do decide you're going to meet someone anyway, take a friend with you and make sure your parents or an adult know where you're going and who 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 around - a busy mall/shopping centre, for example.
  • Don't give out personal information over the internet - don't tell anyone your real name and address, for example. If you use social networking sites, make sure that this information isn't on your profile and that you know what your privacy settings are.
  • If someone you know from a chatroom or board wants you to send them pictures or personal info – stop and think! Why are they asking, and can you be sure they're who they say they are?
  • If something goes wrong, you can report somebody using the CEOP website here. The CEOP can also help you to block somebody, gather evidence if they have done something wrong, and tell the police if you need to.

Pornography

Whatever your views or feelings are, as a young person it’s good to get clued up about porn:

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 effects how people think that 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 in porn look doesn’t represent real bodies. In real life, men and women don’t always wear make-up or sexy outfits.
  • You should never expect your partner in real life to do something just because you’ve seen it within porn. 
  • Porn videos take hours of footage, and edit them down to make the film look like the producers want, so you imagine how different the scene ends up being from real sexual experiences!  
  • Porn doesn't show you how to have safe sex.

It’s 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, equally, to be good.
  • 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! With real sex, you might have a chat and a laugh, and chat 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. Some people like anal sex or ejaculating on their partner, but they’re not as essential as porn can make them out to be.
  • Whatever you see in porn, real sex needs to be mutually consensual! This means everyone involved in any sexual act, whether that’s kissing, touching, oral sex or penetrative sex, needs to want to be involved. 

People have different views on it:

  • Lots of people find it 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 see it if you don’t want to:

  • There's loads 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's showing or sending you porn, and you don't feel comfortable, ask them to stop. If they don't, then you should think about asking a teacher or parent for advice. This can be a type of abuse.

There are laws about porn that might affect you:

  • In some parts of the world, there are age limits on 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 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 in different countries, but pornography involving children or animals is illegal in most countries. People who have been found to have large quantities of illegal pornography on their computers have been sent to prison.

Help, information and advice on the internet

You can learn about safe sex on the InternetWhilst some people use porn to find out about sex, there are other ways that you can learn about sex through the internet, that can be more related to real life.

You might find the internet especially useful if you’re living in an area where sexual health information is more scarce - a study in Ghana found that 53% of teens used the internet to find health information. 7

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...

The truth, and nothing but the truth?

  • Make sure you’re sure that the information is accurate, and double-check it on a couple more websites if you’re not sure. Anyone can put up a web page claiming that you won't get pregnant if you have sex standing up, for example - but that doesn't make it true! (It isn't true, by the way!)
  • A good way to find a reliable website can be to ask a teacher, or your doctor to recommend a good one.

Revving the search engine

To find what you want using a search engine, you have to use the right keywords. For example, if you just type "teen sex" into the search box, you'll probably notice that there are a lot of websites about 'teen sex' that don't give any advice at all – and, unless you're looking for pornography, they won't be any help to you. Try using different words, as well as teen or sex - words like advice, help, or information.

Through the filter

Some computer programs have special 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. The trouble is, this can sometimes mean that they also 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 dangers on the internet. 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. But don't let this put you off!

The web can also be a really valuable resource for sexual health information. Almost anything you could possibly need to know is out there somewhere, all the things you wanted to ask but couldn't go to your teachers or parents about.

If you go to any event in real life that you found out about from the web, be really careful that it's safe.

As well as sexual health information, the web can put you in touch with other people – if you're going through a difficult time, you can find other people who've 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.

Where next?

 

References

Page last reviewed: 
22/04/2014
Next review date: 
22/10/2015

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