Left to their own devices
February 27, 2021
A question arises, but instead of being scribbled on a slip of paper and dropped into an anonymous question box at the front of the classroom, it’s answered with the click of a search button.
In today’s digital age, a simple Google search can pull up billions of results in milliseconds. When students are left with unanswered questions, many, like Spicher, turn to the internet for answers. In a world where information is quite literally always at one’s fingertips, Spicher attributes the inclination to rely on online sources of information to embarrassment.
“As kids, we believe a lot of anything on the internet, which we definitely shouldn’t,” Spicher said. “Kids will go on there for anything if they don’t feel comfortable asking someone because they’re scared. I know I do it sometimes because we’re all scared of just saying something out loud.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, Spicher is not alone. In 2010, a study conducted with 13 to 19-year-olds found 19% of heterosexual youth, 40% of questioning youth, 65% of bisexual youth and 78% of lesbian/gay/queer youth reported that they had used the internet to look up sexual health information in the past year.
Wotherspoon worries that these various influences, when not vetted for reliability or bias, can prove harmful for teens.
“We’re surrounded by information coming in from all different sources and in general, the messages we receive teach us to perpetuate the status quo,” Wotherspoon said. “And the status quo is one out of four girls being sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday.”
This is why Scheetz believes it’s essential students receive a proper sex education. However, she understands questions may arise outside of class, and in those cases, she encourages students to seek out diverse sources of reliable information.
“If people are pursuing information on their own, that’s great,” Scheetz said. “But if they’re doing so because they got left in the dark, I think that’s a problem.”
With greater access to media comes an increased access to explicit content online at a younger age.
According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, 42% of adolescents reported exposure to pornography online, with 66% of that number describing this as unwanted. The Witherspoon Institute found this repeated exposure to explicit content can normalize sexual abuse and disregard consent as a vital step in sexual relationships.
Wotherspoon recognizes that because of these high viewership numbers, pornography may act as a source of education for many. However, she urges viewers to think critically about how it may inaccurately portray healthy relationships.
”It’s important to realize it isn’t a blueprint,” Wotherspoon said. “This is somebody selling a product; it’s not like a how-to manual of how to have healthy sexual relationships.”
She finds this to be particularly true for members of the LGBTQ+ community, as pornography is often tailored to the interests of cisgender men. As a result, she hopes to emphasize what healthy relationships and consent should look like in addition to teaching students how to find and effectively utilize reliable sources of information.
“When you get to the point that you’re having romantic relationships and or sexual relationships, everyone’s different, so you need to learn from each other by open communication,” Wotherspoon said.