Social media help young people to explore sexuality

We need to get away from the idea that social media has a negative impact on the sexual behaviour of young people. “Social media can actually be an excellent way for young people to explore sexuality,” says anthropologist and gender studies researcher Marijke Naezer. Naezer will receive her Ph.D. from Radboud University on 4 October.

With the advent of social media, a whole new world has opened up in which young people can explore sexuality, e.g. through sexting, sexy selfies, online dating, and pornography. However, little is currently known about the exact way that young people utilise these media. In her thesis, Naezer builds a framework for understanding the sexy adventures of young people on social media. Naezer describes how young people shape and transform four dimensions of sexuality through social media: adventure, romantic intimacy, identity, and sexual knowledge building.

Naezer: “Fear and stereotypes have unfortunately dominated the debate up to this point and that is a real shame. Based on those fears and stereotypes, we tell young people: don’t do it. However, social media can be very positive, even life-saving. For example, I have spoken to young people who did not feel “normal”, because they did not see role models who were “like them” in real life or in sex education. Sometimes, they even dealt with suicidal thoughts. Through social media, they found people who could support them.’ Naezer gives the example of “Jong&Out”, an online community for young people with different sexual orientations and gender identities.

The perspective of young people

The research provides insight into the perspective of young people between 12 to 18 years of age. Naezer: “As of yet, there has been a lot of talk about young people, but relatively little with them, resulting in a narrow and biased view. Let’s use the risks that young people consider important as an example. These may be very different from what you’d expect, such as the risk of being called a “slut” because you like taking sexy pictures, or the risk that people find out that you do not identify as straight.”

According to Naezer, we need to abandon the stereotype that young people are naive, reckless, and unaware of consequences. Naezer: “Generally, young people think carefully about what they do and do not want, and they take all kinds of measures to keep things enjoyable for themselves and others. They also happen to be fairly conventional: most young people want to develop sexuality in a step-by-step manner and strive for a monogamous relationship. It is therefore high time to stop panicking and start taking a more in-depth approach to the topic.”