Teens and the sexual content on social media

Teens and the sexual content on social media

While social media offers opportunities for young people to stay connected, sexual content may impact on their understanding of sex and relationships.

Parents text content

Social media can be a great place for young people to express themselves and connect with others.  However, it does come with risks such as exposure to harmful content, which includes online sexual images or videos. A YouGov and BBFC survey into children’s viewing during lockdown found that a quarter (24%) of 14 year olds see harmful content on a daily basis.

What sexual content could my child see?

‘Sexy’ pictures. 

It’s no secret that there’s ‘sexy’ pictures and videos all over social media. While nude images violate social media platforms community guidelines, underwear pics and ‘sexy’ poses are allowed. Your child may see influencers, famous celebrities and even their friends posting such photos. Some of these are edited, filtered and manipulated to make the person in the image look ‘better’.

Nude or semi-nude images of adults.

It’s now possible to view pornography without visiting dedicated sites. Young people have reported viewing naked images of adults on popular apps.

Information about how to deal with specific issues related to online porn can be found in our ‘Worried about your child and online porn?’ article.

Nude or semi-nude images of other young people.

Sometimes, nude images of young people are posted publically on social media or in group chats without their consent. This can also include pseudo images such as those created using artificial intelligence (AI). 

Naked images of under 18s (including those created with AI) are illegal. Situations where images of young people are shared widely should be taken seriously and reported to CEOP. Read our nude selfies article for further information on talking to your child about nude images of young people.  

How could this content impact my child?

Young people are often unaware of the impact that these images can have on them, and their attitudes towards sex and relationships.

This may include:

  • Viewing women as sex objects. This inquiry into sexual harassment of women and girls in public places highlights the role that social media plays in the stereotypes of women and men. ‘Sexy’ pictures on social media can play a part in women being viewed as sexual objects.
  • Influencing sexual behaviours. Viewing naked images of others can have an impact too. The young people in the BBFC research believed viewing pornographic content could influence future sexual behaviours and attitudes. For example, many felt that it could make people less respectful of their partners.
  • Negative feelings about their own body. The Royal Society for Public Health found that social media can produce a ‘compare and despair’ attitude. This means that individuals view heavily photo-shopped photographs and videos and compare them to their own bodies. Read practical tips from Internet Matters on what you can do to promote a healthy body image for your child.

How to have the conversation

You can support your child by talking about the type of content they might see online. Ongoing conversations about what this content means to them, will help your child to develop healthy attitudes to sex, relationships and body image.

  • Stay positive. Most young people will have positive experiences on social media.  Young people are more likely to listen to the risks if you provide them with a balanced view of being online.
  • Talk about stereotypes. Explain that the media (including social media) can portray stereotypes of how women and men should look and act. Discuss how these might make people feel. If your child makes stereotypical comments, challenge them and explain why they’re inappropriate. You can read more from The Children's Society about how gender roles and sterotypes affect young people.
  • Help them to identify what’s real and what’s not. Social media feeds can give young people the impression that everyone else has a beautiful body and perfect life. Talk about the fact that people’s lives are often edited and filtered on social media. Ditch the label’s ‘Are you living an Insta lie?’ video could help you start the conversation.
  • Let them know that they can talk to you if anything makes them feel uncomfortable. Some content, particularly if it’s nude images, can make young people feel uncomfortable. It’s important that they know to seek help (no matter how embarrassing) if they see anything which worries them.
  • Discuss when to unfollow, block or report –Talk about how what they see online makes them feel, and how they can stop seeing posts which are having a negative impact on them.