Young people see the Internet as a natural platform for their daily romantic and sexual encounters, but at the same time, they have to weigh the benefits against the various risks and dangers. This information has emerged in a new study by a researcher from Malmö University.
In the study, Young People, Consent and the Internet: An Effects-Theoretic Study of Young People’s Sexual Practices Online, 16- to 19-year-old adolescents participated in group discussions. Questions related to how they construe and negotiate consent in various sexual situations of digital communication and how early online experiences shape their preferences regarding digital sexual communication and dating in general.
Kim Ringmer Silwander, a postdoc at the Center for Sexology and Sexuality Studies, notes that discussions of sexual consent online are shaped by boys’ and girls’ different expectations of sexuality. And much like offline sexual encounters, consent in online sexual contact is rarely discussed as ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but rather about feeling each other out.
“Boys and young men in our study feel pressured to seek consent but to get it in the right way; that is, it should feel good for the girl. Whereas girls and young women find it difficult to navigate situations with whom they do not want to have sex. Receives unwanted invitations from close friends; this must be discussed constantly to avoid shame. Girls describe this as ‘putting them down politely’. Ban or block someone at school with the risk that boys will spread bad rumors about them.
Young people describe doing things as children that they now consider immature. For example, they were on chat websites, such as Omegle, where naked men could appear and masturbate. The guys were “nude hunting” (looking for nude pictures of girls on the social networking site, Youbo) and didn’t consider that there was a real person behind the picture.
“What’s interesting is that they considered themselves mature at the age of twelve; they thought they were in control and certainly understood the risks and could operate the platforms in a responsible way. However, they now see their previous choices as consequences. For lack of consequential thinking .”
They also report that the digital sexual practices they engaged in during their early teens faded significantly when they later became romantically involved in offline settings.
It’s also clear that while no adults have ever talked to them about the benefits of online sexual interactions, most of the educational messages they receive are about risks and dangers – especially for girls, which reinforces victim-blaming. We should pay more attention to what young people have sexual rights and what rights they have to their privacy and their own bodies.”
Kim Ringmar Sylwander, Postdoc, Center for Sexology and Sexuality Studies