With the emergence of social media, an entire new world has been created in which people can explore their sexuality. It’s now easier than ever to recognise likeminded people that can enhance your perspective on sexuality; whether that be acceptance, discovery or knowledge-building. This powerful tool can be utilised to create a sense of identity, belonging and adventure- however, is this the case for every situation? Does social media have more positive or negative connotations regarding sexuality?

When asked their opinion, 57% of people surveyed expressed the view that social media encourages hyper-sexuality, or an abundance of sexual expression. A myriad of celebrities, influencers and regular people are making the direct choice to present themselves sexually, opening up doors for others to emulate. Efforts to destigmatize sexuality are everywhere, causing people to feel comfortable exploring what they like and don’t like, and how they fit into certain communities. Ruby Stevenson, a student from Essex, commented: “I think this is a good thing as it gets rid of the stigma around sex, especially for women”, presenting the positivity of the normalisation of the female sexuality- one of the increasingly positive results of social media. Nevertheless, not all results of social media can be interpreted as positive; our society has essentially been warped through hyper-sexualisation in advertisements, modelling and other platforms on the internet. Lauren Brandt, a student from Colchester, conveyed, “Young teenagers are exposed to the unrealistic expectation of defined sexuality as well as unnatural bodies. The entirety of the media seem to fetishize young men and women. The media has channelled this into minds, making people believe there is a ‘right time’ to have sex or sexual activities. The concept of virginity, shaping our social structure with bullying and media coverage, is all the more unsettling”.
However, an alternative opinion to social media encouraging hyper-sexuality is that it simply gives a platform to something that already existed- as expressed by Georgina Buckner – “it gives a voice to something that has been repressed for so long”.  For years, sexuality has been stigmatised and oppressed; perhaps social media isn’t creating a new era for sexuality, but instead promoting ideals that were subdued in the past. 

48% of young people surveyed responded they had posted something to express their sexuality in the past. This large percentage obscenely reflects the attitudes social media is encouraging- whether you believe this is positive or negative. However, with this increase in sexual expression, comes pressure and judgement. Many would agree that social media seems to have a certain degree of pressure over sexuality; Lauren Brandt comments that “the judgement that comes from someone expressing themselves freely warps it into a more toxic trait”. Despite this, a pattern still appears to exist between sexualised posts (e.g., ‘thirst traps’) and popularity, hence the pressure to post more sexualised content. 

So, why do people continue to post sexualised content in spite of these judgements? A myriad of students explained they felt “powerful” and “empowered” when displaying this content. Bella Smith, a student from Braintree commented, “As a woman, I feel powerful in the fact that I can feel comfortable in my own body, although this is not always the case. What is acceptable is heavily influenced by past portrayals of men and women, the media is constantly evolving”. A strong theme of vulnerability persisted throughout comments on how people felt when they shared sexual content- often stemming from ‘slut shaming’ and directed judgements concerning their body, confidence and sexuality. However, this issue seems to disproportionately affect women, due to old-fashioned stereotypes of acceptable behaviour. Social media is such a subjective concept; therefore, a more accepting and tolerant community should be expected, but sadly this isn’t always the case.
         
The platform that social media creates is also transformed into a force of good for divulging identity. The diverse nature of the internet allows users to find likeminded people, allowing them to discover an area they feel comfortable in. Sexual orientation has been heavily discussed over social media, normalising and integrating it into today’s society. Lucas, from Colchester, believes that sexual orientation has been aided by social media because “people are more aware of sexual orientation and the different types”. This relates to social media being a tool to spread knowledge, preventing ignorance being the basis for homophobic ideals. People now have role models to exemplify what they themselves may be experiencing, allowing them to prevent the repression of their orientation. Georgia Buckner also commented “due to social media, more people are discovering their true selves via online platforms, whereas the stigma behind being LGBTQ plus historically would’ve prevailed".

Social media has certainly developed and shifted our ideas concerning sexuality as a society, giving a platform for expression. However, is this truly the work of social media, or solely the freedom of ideals that have been oppressed for far too long?