A third of Australians surveyed say the internet is good for their sex life

Discussions about sex online often make it look like the “dark side” of the internet.

We hear so much about the risks and dangers of revenge porn, dating scams, porn addiction, and early exposure to sex.

But that’s not the whole story. Our new study examines how Australians use technology in their sex life and its many benefits.

A regular part of life

We recently conducted a survey of Australian adults (aged 18+). The study involved 445 people, with an average age of 42 years. More than half were female (58.5%) and 61% identified as heterosexual.

Texting sexually and using apps to find partners has become a common practice, especially among young people.

We discovered that digital media was an integral part of people’s sex life.

  • 60% had watched porn online
  • 35% had used dating apps
  • 34% had sent sexual texts or nude selfies to another person.

Better connections

People have also reported how digital technology has benefited their sex lives and relationships.

  • 38% felt more emotionally connected to their partners
  • 27% felt more sexually connected with their partners
  • 31% said they found it sexually rewarding to share or receive text messages of a sexual nature with someone they met online.

Others said they used the Internet to find information about relationships or sexual health.

  • 54% said the information they found online helped them feel more comfortable with sex
  • 49% said the internet allowed them to explore new or different sexual cultures.

Yes, there are risks

That being said, while reporting many benefits, participants were also aware of the risks associated with online sexual activity or communication.

  • 59% agreed that sharing naked or explicit images or videos could embarrass them
  • 51% agreed online sexual engagement could cause them problems in the workplace
  • 51% worried that their search history would be seen by others if they searched for pornography
  • 24% were worried about providing personal details when buying sex products online.

What’s going on in Australia?

In 2021, the Federal Parliament passed the Online Safety Act, expanding the powers of the Electronic Safety Commissioner to tackle cyberbullying and image-based abuse.

The commissioner can now require social media services, hosting service providers and individuals to remove online content deemed harmful, dangerous or abusive in as little as 24 hours.

Blurry photo of a person watching porn.
New federal laws aim to make the internet safer, but experts fear there may be unintended consequences.

This is an important step in improving digital security given the global and unregulated nature of the Internet.

However, there are serious concerns that these expanded powers could lead to restrictive acts, prohibiting consensual sexual activity or information online.

Read more: New online safety bill could allow censorship of anyone who engages with sexual content on the internet

LGBTQIA+ and other sexual or kinky communities face a risk of censorship, while the livelihoods of sex workers are also more at risk, especially as much of the sex work moved online during COVID.

It could also make it more difficult to access safe sex education materials.

Current Electronic Safety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said she would use the new powers to target child exploitation material and was not interested in policing the sexual interests of consenting adults. However, these assurances may change over time or when a new appointee takes up the position.

Why is this important?

Decades of research show that sexual health education is most effective if it teaches that sex should be enjoyable.

Messages that focus on abstinence or illness and problems can undermine people’s confidence in pursuing healthy, consensual sex.

The same can be said for digital sexual literacy. Online safety education will be more effective if discussions of risk take place in the context of sex in the digital world being a largely positive thing.

How to reconcile risk and pleasure?

Our findings add to the growing body of research showing how the internet and digital technologies can benefit relationships and sex lives.

Read more: Online sex parties and VR porn: Can isolated sex be as fulfilling as real life?

They are places where people explore their sexuality, learn about sex, and engage with diverse communities. It can also be a space to facilitate conversations about consent, safety and sexual health.

Digital risk management should not be about sanitizing the internet, but about supporting people’s choices.

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