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Is the Internet changing sexual behaviour?

Posted in: Sexual Health 10 Jan, 2012

Research conducted by the UK Safer Internet Centre and the University of Plymouth has exposed how the Internet is changing people's attitudes towards sex. The study showed that young people were likely to have sex with strangers that they met over the Internet and many young people have reportedly had some form of sexual contact with people they had never met before via a web cam.

Some blogs and headlines sensationally report that this could make it more likely that STIs will spread among young people, as they'll find it easier to engage in spur of the moment, unprotected sex. Although I agree to some extent, it's easy to blame the Internet for everything that is wrong in society, making young people sound like lost sheep at the mercy of a big bad internet wolf.

Just because there is a potential link between the Internet, casual sex and sexually transmitted infections, this doesn't mean that it can be seen as a direct cause.

Young people and the Internet

For many young people, the Internet is an extension of their lives, meaning that they do on the Internet what they are likely to do in the 'real world'. Not everyone is out to look for sexually explicit images and illicit affairs online, many young people, according to a report titled UK Kids Online, simply use the internet to keep in touch with their friends on social networks. However, it is reports claiming that Facebook is responsible for syphilis among young people or bullying online that make even this innocent activity seem fraught with danger, causing many a parent to look upon the Internet with unnecessary anxiety and fear.

The Internet isn't the sole cause

Yes, sexually transmitted infections (i.e. chlamydia and gonorrhoea) rises over the last decade do coincide with a wider availability of Internet and there have also recently been studies in the US that proves that women with Internet partners tend to engage in more high risk sexual activities, but I think that there is a bigger social issue to consider than the just the Internet.

Instead of perceiving the Internet as some kind of social perversion, young people should be taught how to use it safely, just like they would be taught in real life not to talk to strangers or meet up with someone they don't know. It's easy to think that what happens on the Internet isn't real, but unfortunately, it's very real, and people should be made aware of that fact.

Riskier sexual behaviour could be a symptom of a society coming to terms with the increased connective capability of the Internet. However, Dr Petra Boynton, an expert blogger on Sexual Health, suggests that we stop trying to blame singular causes for sexual health problems, and rather focus on the numerous other issues that fuel sexual behaviour, such as confidence, education, family and poverty.

STIs can affect anyone

Although sexually transmitted infections are often associated with promiscuity, it's important to remember that sexually transmitted infections don't just influence people who part take in regular risky sexual behaviour and can affect anyone, so it's important to be safe and seek treatment for any kind or infection as soon as possible.

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