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The Online World, Sex & Relationships

Perhaps one of the biggest perceived “risks” around adolescents is the time they spend online, usually unsupervised and often unmonitored. There is a wealth of research around the potential pitfalls or benefits of the online world for teenagers and how we can support them to stay safe. This unit doesn’t have scope to explore these in any detail, but great sites for further information include CEOP, Think You Know and the NSPCC.

There are some specific areas that you might want to consider when supporting young people with their online behaviour regarding sex and relationships. These are:

Online Relationships – Young people tend not to make a distinction between the online and offline world. Relationships that start or take place exclusively online are not seen as any less important or intense. Most romantic or sexual relationships are likely to be conducted both on and offline. There are some potential risks associated with this – like grooming, bullying or pressure, or intimate details being recorded and shared without consent. However lots of young people also find it easier to communicate, talk about their  feelings, flirt and feel in control online. Ignoring these benefits can alienate young people, put barriers up to open communication and reinforce the belief that adults just “don’t understand.” More information around this can be viewed in the report below:

Digital Romance – Brook

Sending Explicit Images – The law states that it is an offence to possess or distribute an explicit image of anyone under the age of 18 – including yourself. However, the law is often not enough to deter young people from engaging in this behavior. Research suggests that incidents are increasing and happening at a younger age. The reasons for taking and sharing an explicit image vary drastically – from exploring sexual expression, using it as a way to flirt or as part of consensual sexual repertoire with a partner. More concerning reasons may include coercion, threats or being tricked. Many young people see it as a normal part of growing up, while others have reported pressure from partners and peers to do it as well as adults or strangers. Outcomes can also be very different – some young people may share images without any problems at all. Others may have their images passed on non- consensually, resulting in bullying and stress. Rather than viewing all instances of sharing images as the same it can be more helpful to consider the level of risk and how we can offer appropriate guidance and help if required. This can only be achieved through supportive and non-judgemental communication. The following clips have some useful information for parents, carers and professionals:

Pornography – Research suggests that the average first-time access to pornography is anywhere between 11 and 14 years old. Most older young people will have seen porn, even if they don’t choose to watch it. Viewing requires just the click of a button and it can be difficult to monitor or prevent access to pretty hardcore and often violent content. There are several reasons why young people might respond differently to porn. They have little or no real life experience of sexual relationships, they are curious sexual beings in their own right and they may also have lots of questions or concerns about sex that aren’t being answered elsewhere. This means that they are more likely to think porn depicts reality and that they should be trying these things out with a partner, even if it doesn’t feel “right.”  It can also cause problems with body image, gender perceptions , confusion around consent and performance related anxiety. Rather than shaming or blaming young people for accessing porn it’s important that we talk about it. Positive and brave sex and relationships education can help young people to understand that porn isn’t real. You can read more about porn by clicking below (thanks to Justin Hancock at for allowing us to include his wonderful work)

An Educational Guide To Porn – bishuk