The Internet: Sex Ed Class for Teens

How are teens answering their questions about sex?

Sex education can be a touchy topic. For parents, it can be tricky and even awkward to talk about sex with their teens. The politics surrounding the subject make it difficult for many schools to comprehensively address sex education as well. This makes it challenging for young people to access accurate and relevant information necessary to keep themselves healthy.

For youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or questioning (LGB), access is even more limited. In fact, two in three LGB teens in a recent survey felt that the topics covered in sex ed at their school was not relevant to them. Even more stigmatizing, a recent study revealed that 12% of LGB youth felt that their schools discussed non-vaginal sex in a negative manner. [1,2]

With difficulties in access to reliable information, how are teens answering their questions about sex?

The answer? The internet. With its availability, usability, and privacy, the internet offers teens a tool for obtaining critical health information they may not otherwise have access to in schools or from adults in their lives. In fact, one in four teens have looked for health information online in the past year. [3]

A recently released research article, “Accessing sexual health information online: use, motivations and consequences for youth with different sexual orientations” explores how youth use the internet to look for sexual and other health information. To understand how this might be similar and different for youth of different sexual orientations, the article looks at LGB and non-LGB youth separately.

Highlights of the findings include:

• Online searches for any type of health or other types of information were more common among lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer (LGB) youth than heterosexual youth.

• This trend was also present in searches for sexual health information.

• Across the board however, youth searched less often for sexual health information as compared to health and non-health information.

Most youth turned to the internet because it was private. Curiosity and not having people to talk to in person were additional reasons. Lack of in-person sources was most frequently reported by LGB teens, emphasizing the clear need for greater resources and support for LGB youth in our communities.

• For instance, while one in five heterosexual youth searched for sexual health information online in the past year; an amazing three in four gay, lesbian, and queer youth, and two in three bisexual youth did the same.

• As one might expect, searches for sexuality or sexual attraction were more often reported by LGB youth.

• Across all sexual orientations, youth rarely searched for information about HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases.

As education both at home and school evolves and changes, the use of media as a source of information will too. It is clear that for sexual minority youth, the internet is an essential sexual education tool. It is the responsibility of all of us – educators, parents, doctors, psychologist, and public health officials – to ensure that there are accurate and usable websites for non-heterosexual youth who are curious, want privacy, or have no one to ask.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Jennifer Renzas for her contributions to this blog.

This article is based on “Accessing sexual health information online: use, motivations and consequences for youth with different sexual orientations” from the Teen Health and Technology survey. The research was jointly conducted by the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, Crimes against Children Research Center at University of New Hampshire, and Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. This study was funded from a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [Grant No. R01HD057191]. This article can be accessed at:


[1] Kosciw J, Diaz EM. The 2005 National School Climate Survey: The Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgendered Youth in Our Nation’s Schools. New York: GLSEN, 2006.

[2] Kosciw JG et al. The 2011 National School Climate Survey. New York: GLSEN, 2012.

[3] Ybarra M, Suman M. Reasons, assessments, and actions taken: sex and age differences in uses of Internet health information. Health Educ Res 2008; 23: 512–21.