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Let’s talk about sex (education) – Part two

Part one of this special report can be found here.

The National Survey of Secondary Students and Sexual Health found that almost half of the country’s youth turn to the internet for information on sex (44 per cent of 2136 students).

Another survey, the Let’s Talk Sex Survey, also found the web was the most common source of information about sex (85 per cent of 1219 millennials).

This should come as no surprise when the average Australian spends 22.5 hours a week on the internet.

One of the respondents from the National Survey of Secondary Students and Sexual Health said no information at all came from school programs.

“We only learned about what condoms were, (didn’t even see one or explain how to use it effectively) and that women got pregnant. The other stuff was all “Puberty Ed” stuff. Nothing on sexuality, pleasure, contraception other than condoms / the pill? … but I think that’s downright stupid. I had to research everything myself so that I didn’t end up pregnant, diseased, or in serious pain. :/”.

One of the more obvious sources for sex education on the internet is pornography.

Between August and October 2016, the Australian Institute of Family studies researched the effects of pornography on children and young people. It found 44 per cent of children between the age of 9-16 had seen sexual images in the past month.

The report also acknowledged, “Pornography can act as a source of information about sexual acts, sexual practices and diverse sexualities. In the absence of other explicit information available, research suggests that pornography can be the main source of sex education. The impacts of this element alone are unclear.”

Ana Poulos left school five years ago, the same time that the National Survey of Secondary Students and Sexual Health was underway. She went to a private Anglican girls’ school and learned about STIs like HIV and chlamydia. The PDHPE teachers were approachable but appeared to be too embarrassed to ask any questions beyond the basics of STIs.

Educating herself on sex has never been a problem for Ana, who Googled questions about pregnancy and sexual pleasure.

“I started by searching questions I had about pregnancy and STIs. When I turned 16, a friend showed me porn … I had no idea of the steps of how two people came together … I learned all of that through the visuals of pornography.”

Like most girls, Ana couldn’t identify with any of the girls in the videos she was watching. She looked further on the web and read articles about the reality of porn production, seeking out websites like MTV’s It’s Your Sex Life.

“It was risky (watching porn); this was the first time I was seeing sex as a virgin. The people looked so perfect,” she says.

Beyond pornography, social media has now introduced a new form of sex education.

Shan Boodram, sexologist and author of LAID, is based in Canada and has been reaching millennials around the globe via social media.

She has close to 400,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel, 172,000 followers on Instagram and 27,200 followers on Twitter.

Her intention is that others might learn from her own experiences and knowledge, to help understand the relationship between love and sex and everything between.

She introduces her YouTube channel as a place of acceptance and positivity.

“I care about pleasure, I care about emotional health, I care about consent,” she says.

She explains why social media has such an impact on millennials and their sex education today.

“In the age of social media, it isn’t the big outlets that hold the bulk of people’s attention; it’s celebrities and social influencers … We now live in an easy-access culture where we literally have a world of possibilities at our fingertips,” she explains.

Josh, now 24, recalls growing up gay in a Catholic family and going to a Catholic school. At the age of 11, he got curious after seeing a movie sex scene and typed “naked people” into Google. Pornography was one of the top results.

“I learned everything about sex from porn. What to do, how to do it. The first time I ever heard about STIs was from the warning at the beginning of porn (videos) warning you to wear a condom if you don’t want to get a disease. So, I didn’t take the risk of sex seriously because the people in the porn weren’t wearing condoms,” he says.

What pornography couldn’t teach Josh was the emotions he would feel during sex.

“I learned the basics about sex and also confirmed that I didn’t like girls. It gave me the negative impression that sex was only about the physical and not about the emotional. Which in reality affected my perception of how to have sex and when. It also taught me what I should do after sex but unfortunately not before,” he explains.