According to a study commssioned by the US government, about 1% of sites indexed by Google are sexually explicit. They also found that the strictist Internet filters block 91% of this content while the more lenient ones (that also allow for educational material related to sex to be searched) block about 40%.
The study also debunked the notion that porn or other sex related material is the most commonly searched topics: their study found that less than two percent of searches pertained to sexually related content.
So, are we making a lot of fuss over nothing? Maybe, maybe not. No matter what, parents are going to be concerned about the content that their children encounter. And the 2005 report by Crimes Against Children found that one-third of youth online saw sexual material they did not want to see, compared to one-fourth in 2000.
But how many youth are seeing sexual material that they wanted to see? Or how much of the unwanted sexual material was seen because they were trying to look up information related to sex and simply used the “wrong” words in their queries? We will never know unless we ask.
I am glad that researchers are asking about youth exposure to sexual content. It’s also great that they are asking about relationships formed online, and experiences of sexual solicitation. However, we need to know more about purposeful searching for sexual information. Not just sexual health information — we do know a little bit about teens’ searching habits when it comes to looking for information about STDs and pregnancy — but information about sex, what it is, and what is it like. Without healthy role models and examples of the actual experience of sex, youth will seek out the information and we have no idea what the results and the effects of those results are.
There is no easy solution here. I don’t know how we are going to solve the problem of children asking questions and having easy access to all sort of inaccurate answers. But until we start to grasp the extent of the issue, we can’t even begin to ask the right questions that will lead us to sensible solutions.