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Press release

Growing access to online porn is changing sex education In developing countries

Published on 22 November 2016

Online pornography has become the predominant channel through which young women and men are learning about sex, not only in the developed world but in developing countries too, says a new report from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS).

At an IDS roundtable event held today (Tuesday 22 November) in London with academics, policymakers and practitioners, the institute is calling for more engagement between porn producers, social media providers, sex educators and young people themselves. By working together, a more rounded approach to sex education can be achieved, able to address sexual health, unwanted pregnancy and sexual violence, as well as the realities of sex and pleasure.

Countries like Sierra Leone and Uganda, where sexual knowledge used to be passed down by family members are seeing a huge upsurge in internet access among young people. The research examines the shift from traditional ‘gatekeepers’ to sex education such as faith leaders and governments to the influencers from new online gatekeepers like Facebook and Google.

Charities working to provide progressive and inclusive information on sex, such as Love Matters in Kenya and India have adapted to online platforms, but are struggling to compete against commercial porn sites. One of the largest, PornHub, has 1.3 billion online visits per month – 650 times more visits than the two million online visits per month to the number one sex education site Scarleteen.com, based in the US. 

The report highlights that many people assume online porn is only watched by young men, but points out that in India a survey of 5,000 young people found that 84 per cent of young women had watched online porn. Among the young women and men 50 per cent had ‘sexted’ and about 28 per cent had sent or received a ‘dickpick’.

As well as trying to compete among porn sites, those trying to reach young people with sex and relationship education also struggle against opaque censorship rules by social media providers and search engines and attempts to enforce obscenity laws by national governments. For example, an advert for the Love Matters education service in India with the question ‘Is sex painful the first time?’ was banned by Facebook.

Pauline Oosterhoff, Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, and author of the research, said: “How young people are learning about sex and relationships in developing countries is a growing and complex issue and one we must engage with, so that millions of young people can access information that is vital for their sexual and reproductive health.

“We also need to try to understand the gender and power dynamics at play both online and offline if we want to reduce revenge porn and prevent other types of digital violence. With increasing access to online porn, young people should be able to access information to understand their own sexual rights, pleasure and consent, whether they live in the UK, India or anywhere else in the world.”

 

 

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