The Internet is the main source of information about sex for children and adolescents. They also look for such information in magazines for teenagers, but porn magazines are not very popular. Many young people also receive erotic photos via phone or email messages.
“The popularity of the Internet can probably be explained by its widespread availability, the ease of searching for answers to specific questions and the privacy it offers,” Hana Macháčková says. She and her colleagues from the MU Faculty of Social Studies have carried out a study of the internet behaviour of adolescents from 10 to 18 years of age.
Out of several thousand respondents, 66% said that the Internet was their main source of information. Half of them asked their parents or other family members such questions. “It is natural that this topic showed the largest differences between respondents of different age groups, as this is related to sexual maturation,” says Lenka Dědková, another team member.
Older children and adolescents seek out sexual content on purpose, but they are also quite often exposed to such information without seeking it out. Thirty percent of those who said they were inadvertently exposed to sexual content indicated that it was included in pop‑ups that opened while they were surfing the web. However, almost 40% of the respondents said they had seen such content on social networking websites.
“Another study of younger children also shows that some advertisements that are normal and acceptable for adults, such as advertisements for underwear that show naked bodies, are perceived as unwanted sexual content by children. Fortunately, our research later came to the conclusion that young people are not too disturbed by seeing such sexual content,” adds Dědková.
The researchers also focused on sexting, the sending and receiving of sexually explicit messages and photographs. “When asked about sending their own erotic photographs, 11% of the respondents said they had sent such photographs. They are more often sent by boys,” Dědková says, adding that a quarter of adolescents have received such photographs, some of them from people they do not know.
Sexting becomes more common as children grow up, but 13% of children between ten and eleven years of age have also received an erotic photograph and nine percent of them have sent one. The experts say that most sexts are sent as a part of a romantic relationship.
Nevertheless, they encourage both parents and teachers to have more frequent discussions with children about the sexual content they encounter online and how they view it. This can be one of the ways to communicate more accurate information about sex or influence children’s sexual behaviour.