3 Ways We Can Use the Internet to Destigmatise Sex
By: Funmi Lijadu
The internet is revolutionary in its potential to empower and educate the average user; anyone with access to the internet can learn about contraception, sexual wellness and more. However, the internet can be an unreliable narrator, as opinions can be confused with facts.
While it’s clear that sex education has a long way to go, we should utilise the internet to encourage transparent conversations about sex.
Stay Educated About Contraception
Our digital media landscape often fails to reflect the health concerns surrounding sex, with one example being a lack of communication about contraception between on-screen sexual partners. But this is changing! Shows like Sex Education and I May Destroy You offer viewers complex and reassuringly honest portrayals of contraception use on screen. These shows are normalising the discussion of contraception with your sexual partner, which helps teens better navigate pleasure and sexual health.
Different kinds of contraception are more suited to some people than others, meaning trying out new methods is often confusing. But you are not alone! You can explore your contraceptive options using websites like Brook. Self-education is helpful in the process of learning. It’s okay not to know everything, as there are professionals and experts who are trained to provide guidance and support. Keep reading for linked resources, which will help in guiding you through these complex topics. And, as always, reach out to your GP with any and all questions. Additionally, we’ve put together a breakdown on accessing contraception during the pandemic here.
Educate Yourself on STIs
Popular information about sex is often pleasure-focused, centring around the experience and physicality of sex. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it can mean the topic of sexual health gets neglected. Articles, films and books that document sexual encounters are trendy, while casual discussions about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are less common.
Discussions about STIs can be crisis-like in tone, as public conversations are dominated by mass outbreaks of infections. This perpetuates stigma rather than empathy. That is, there is a focus on symptoms, rather than educating on treatment and tools for people living with these STIs.
For instance, there is widespread misinformation about herpes. According to the WHO, about 67% of the world live with the STI herpes. It’s very common and treatable! Herpes is often recognised as manifesting in sores around the mouth and genital warts. However, while these symptoms are present in many who live with it, some people with herpes display no symptoms at all. The asymptomatic nature of herpes shows that more work must be done to encourage testing.
Though it can seem daunting at first, there are many ways to stay on top of your STI status. You could find out if there are reliable at-home STI testing-kits you can order online. Book an appointment online, visit your GP and request an STI test appointment to stay on top of your health. It could also be helpful to seek ethical advice on how to discuss STIs with your partners.
Most STIs have no symptoms so you may never know about the reality of your sexual health until you get tested. We can beat the shame surrounding STIs by reading more STI related content online. We can also amplify voices that address this health reality without shame. I hope for a future where regular STI testing is as normal as going to the dentist or the salon.
Challenge Beauty Standards and Seek Body Acceptance
Finally, we can all probably attest to the fact that mainstream beauty standards dominate the internet. Due to this, advertising and adult content on the internet can often have harmful impacts on how young people view their bodies. Nevertheless, there are content creators on social media platforms who are dedicated to celebrating the bodies that are often considered less desirable on the mainstream internet.
For example, people with vulvas are often compared to the completely shaven, barbie-fied vulvas on the internet, which can cause feelings of shame and pressure to remove body hair. Womxn should make the decision to keep or remove body hair without external pressure. Standards set by erotic content, in particular, have devastating impacts on the body standards of young womxn.
Body-acceptance content is necessary because the body image crisis affects people of all genders. Although negative body image is seen as a female issue, it is something that men and non-binary people struggle with too. For people with penises, anxiety over the size of their genitalia or their muscular build can cause huge insecurity. However, being a considerate and enjoyable partner is not defined by the nature of your physical body but your ability to complement someone else in a pleasurable and transparent way. Your size does not correlate with your worth and wellbeing. Similarly, how in-shape you are is not a reflection of your self-worth.
There is a body acceptance movement that seeks to make people more comfortable with how they look. It is a realistic twist on the body positive movement. #Bodyacceptance swaps body positivity’s effervescent tone, for an ambivalence and sense of quiet pride. The body positivity movement can often bank on the premise that feeling better about your body is solved by a particular product or aesthetic. But this marketing is not well-being motivated, it is profit driven. To help on your journey, you could follow people on social media who make you feel positive about how you look rather than insecure. Unfollow influencers or pages that make you feel worse off after you see their content.
Overall, the internet holds great potential to empower people to know more about their bodies and sexual health. That said, there are limits to the internet’s ability to destigmatise sex. After all, the internet is a human invention. As a result, digital spaces often reproduce the biases that define the world off-screen.
The internet’s potential to educate extends far beyond STI myths, contraceptive knowledge and body image. There is so much more that we must discuss to improve sex education. Nevertheless, if we promote transparency on and offline, we can work towards a culture of stigma-free sex education.
Get Tested for STIs in Scotland
Postal STI kits England:
NHS sexual health helpline: https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/for-your-body/sexual-health/