Who’s behind the bike shed? Parents, Pornstars or Professionals?

By David Glance, University of Western Australia

I was invited to participate in a Q and A session called “Profs and Pints” organised by Scitech in WA on the subject of how kids were now finding out about sex.

With the pervasiveness of pornography on the Internet, the assumption could be that most of what kids were learning was coming from their computers rather than their parents or teachers. If true, the follow-on from this would be whether this would be a good or bad thing.

Leaving aside the porn, the other aspect of this is whether kids are motivated and able to actually find resources on the Internet that offer more targeted sexual education and support. Here also, the question is about the quality of this information, the circumstances under which kids might seek out these sites and whether they would do this on their own, or under guidance from parents or professionals.

So it is certainly true that on the Internet, sex is pervasive.

A recent article claimed that 30% of the traffic on the Internet is pornography – one site alone called Xvideos has 4.4 billion page views per month. But since each page actually represents someone watching a video or two, this translates into an enormous amount of traffic.

So how much of these page views are down to teenagers?

In one study, over 70% of 16-17 year-old boys had watched X-rated videos by themselves, and 84% of boys (and 60% of girls) have inadvertently “stumbled” onto porn on the internet. The study did not support the view that teenagers were viewing pornography extensively. (Of course, this is not a view of advocates of Internet filtering who would have everyone believe that this is a problem of crisis proportions.)

Even if teenagers were watching porn, it is not clear what they would learn from these videos from a sexual education perspective. Sexual education encompasses more than just the mechanics of sex even in all of its variety on the Internet.

The Internet is playing a role in the broader sexual education of teenagers. In a Canadian survey, 40% of teens said that the Internet was more useful than parents in providing sexual knowledge and 25% rated the Internet better than their sex ed classes at school. Mind you, 27% of the kids also thought it was possible to get pregnant from oral sex and so their idea about the quality of information they were getting was possibly a little suspect.

Actually finding sites about sexual education is surprisingly difficult. When googling “sexual education”, I got about 343 million hits. But most of the top hits were about the delivery of sex education itself rather than actual content aimed at kids – googling the keywords “information about sex” gave hits about sex offenders and crime record services!

So like a lot of things on the Internet, you just have to know where to go. Sites like Sex Etc have content that is provided by teens with forums and social media sites. They have a Twitter tag called #SexEdFail where they encourage kids to send in stories of the worst advice or moments during sex ed classes or sessions with their parents.

Of course, a major source of sexual information is obtained by talking to friends. It is unlikely that social media is playing a huge part in this. In fact posting anything related to sex on Facebook can lead to a warning about violating the site’s terms of use. Sex talk may happen in the privacy of GoogleTalk or Facebook chat but less so in public unless it happens to be on a specific forum designed for that purpose.

The overall discussion of the evening reinforced the value of parents, teachers and responsible adults talking to kids on a regular basis about sex. In particular, it was agreed that helping kids of all ages develop the ability to make sense of the wide range of sex-related video and images that they are bathed in from an early age from media of all forms, but in particular from the Internet, was the key to effective sex education.

If you are in WA, Check out Scitech’s Profs and Pints sessions.

David Glance does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
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