The smart phone is rapidly changing how we communicate with each other. We text more and talk less, while platforms such as Facebook and Instagram allow for increased communication, resulting in news ways for us to experience relationships. For example, it is estimated that 25 per cent of relationships today begin online. Ten years ago, that number was zero. Technology is transforming how we express ourselves, how we communicate with each other and even how we learn about sexual health.
At the sexual health centre, we began to explore what impact smart phones, social media, and the internet have in our local communities in regard to sexual health. Over the course of the past year, we asked hundreds of participants who attended our sexual health education programs about technology. Notably, the vast majority of youth respondents, many in elementary school, reported that they have access to smart phones or iPad and have at least one social media account.
This can be concerning, as the internet allows for anonymous interactions leaving populations such as youth with a greater inherent risk of encountering dishonesty, deceit and exploitation. Issues such as cyber-bullying, sharing of intimate images, “revenge porn,” sexting among youth, and online coercion inflict significant harm and trauma to individuals, families and communities.
At the Sexual Health Centre for Cumberland County, we understand that youth, their families and others require support to navigate technology and spaces such as social media while addressing concerns such as online harassment, coercion, the sharing of intimate images, and the growing availability of sexually explicit material on the internet. We also know that when we stigmatize sexuality, refuse to talk about it, or shame it, that many (youth and adults alike) will turn to online spaces for information, much of which can be inaccurate and even harmful. It is important that we provide parents and service providers with strategies to reduce risk while educating our youth and each other about all aspects of sexual health including privacy, consent, relationships, and legal rights and responsibilities.
But there is great potential with technology as well. The internet and social media can allow us to educate and support each other in fun ways while creating leadership opportunities for youth. It can be used to help us to communicate our rights and responsibilities to everyone, while empowering change. Importantly, we believe it can help our efforts to take the stigma out of about sexual health education. This is why, in recent weeks, we have begun posting fun, Cumberland County specific, sexual health education videos to our Facebook page and YouTube accounts. In these rapidly changing times, we want to ensure access to accurate, appropriate information about sexual health while reaching as many people across our county as possible.
Sexuality is not given to a person by anyone else. It is a part of who they are, and everyone has a right to their sexuality. Sexual health encompasses our whole wellbeing, including our mental health, our physical health and is a basic and fundamental right that each one of us has. Each of us has the right to safety and protection against infection and disease, sexual violence, and harm. Technology can play an important role in helping us to improve sexual health across the county, and the province. We are up to this exciting challenge at the Sexual Health Centre for Cumberland County. As we continue to grow our programs and services for people of all ages across Cumberland County, we will pay a specific focus to technology and how we can leverage current advances to connect, educate, and support our community to improve sexual health and wellbeing.
Check out our Facebook page at Sexual Health Centre for Cumberland County for our sexual health videos or find us on Twitter. You can find us on Instagram at @sexualhealthmatters
Rene Ross is sexual health educator and executive director for the Sexual Health Centre for Cumberland County.