Throughout the research period, I will post research findings in an academic format to show off my fancy knowledge. This Research Findings report details the importance of creating queer spaces in real life, and focuses on the drawbacks of a net-centered existence.
The plentiful opportunities afforded to queer women via the Internet to explore sex, sexuality, and pleasure from a queer perspective are wonderful, amazing, and probably the coolest thing ever. But it becomes difficult to talk about only the positive impact of these tools and mechanisms without acknowledging that relying on the Internet is an imperfect system.
The psychological impact of Internet use on young people, especially due to their high reliance on web technology and consistent connectedness to social media, has been a topic of discussion since the Internet emerged. For example, in the late 1990’s the reduction hypothesis – which stated that time spent on the Internet hurt adolescents by obstructing their “real” relationships – was widely believed (Blais, Craig, Pepler, Connolly). Now, more research has been presented that supports a stimulation hypothesis that Internet use improves relationships both with strangers and with known-others – but not without challenges (Blais, Craig, Pepler, Connolly).
One of the major drawbacks to queer online spaces and Internet use for marginalized communities is cyberbullying, a serious problem that has only continued and which resulted, in recent years, in many teen suicides. 72 percent of young people experience bullying online, or have at least once, and 85 percent of them also experience it in real life (Threlkeld). Bullying can result in anxiety, low self-esteem, and self-harm, and often when bullying occurs in cyberspace youth do not know how to respond or who to tell (Threlkeld).
Similarly, although relationship-bulding can occur online, Internet use can also lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. In 2010, a report published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine concluded that when young people spend too much time on the Internet they are more likely to be depressed, and that pathological use resulted in poor health, problems in relationships, aggression, and psychological disorders (Benson).
Using the Internet to talk in chat rooms, play games, or otherwise find entertainment has also been associated with decreased satisfaction in personal relationships of a platonic and romantic nature, and a decrease in their quality as well (Blais, Craig, Pepler, Connolly).
I obviously don’t say any of this in order to advocate for less Internet space dedicated to queer women and their sexuality – but merely to make it more clear that using the Internet to bridge the gap is simply not doing enough. Queer people are very absorbed in the web because, as stated previously in my writing, it provides them with safe and affirming spaces, bountiful information and sexual content, and the opportunity to meet other queer people (which may not be revolutionary to anyone in a big city but could certainly be Earth-shattering to queer people without physical communities of queer people to belong to). The sense of community that they find online is important to them, and therefore it is important to me. But because of the potential harm of reliance on Internet technology, and the damage it can do to someone psychologically, it is imperative that classrooms begin to provide a similarly safe space for queer youngsters and give up on heteronormativity.
The Internet as a sex education mechanism for queer people should be the beginning of sex education for queer people, not the end.
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Blais, Julie J., Wendy M. Craig, Debra Pepler, and Jennifer Connolly. “Adolescents Online: The Importance of Internet Activity Choices to Salient Relationships.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Springer Publications. 28 November 2007.
Threlkeld, Aubry D. “Virtual Disruptions: Traditional and New Media’s Challenges to Heteronormativity in Education.” Beyond Current Horizons. December 2008.
Benson, Jonathan. “Too much internet use can lead to depression in young people.” Natural News. 6 August 2010.