Background: Surveys suggest over 40% of young people 13-16 years have seen some form of sexual content online in the past 12 months. There is little research exploring the pathways through which exposure occurs or descriptions of such content. While there is much public concern regarding exposure to sexual content, Australian students receive little or no education on mitigating the impact of sexual content online.
Methods: We conducted focus groups with high school students in an aim to discover young people’s experience of exposure to sexual content in social media. In this paper we describe these pathways to sexual content exposure, the nature of the sexual content young people are exposed to and their views about this exposure.
Results: Focus groups found that exposure to sexual content through social media occurred through networks of ‘friends’ or followers, or paid-for advertising. Content ranged from subtle messages/photos to explicit pornographic pictures/videos. Young people described much of their exposure was unwanted.
Conclusions: Exposure to sexual content, no matter the scope and intensity, is almost unavoidable among young people who use social media. Utilising this information to educate young people on mitigating the impact of sexual content, rather than trying to prevent young people from viewing it, could be a more effective approach.