Online Relationships and Safety

 

The internet connects billions of people around the world, providing information and opportunities to bond with others around shared interests. Just as in your school, place of worship, or with any group of people, the internet connects many different kinds of people. For example, there are online communities of teens and adults on the autism spectrum and also communities of people with other conditions that you may identify with, such as attention issues, sensory sensitivities, or anxiety. The internet can be a wonderful way to read how other people overcome challenges and to share your own experiences with others, if you choose. The internet can also be a rewarding way to develop meaningful relationships.

In this section, you will learn:

  • What information is safe to share online and how to manage it
  • How to develop trust with people you meet online
  • How to find and maintain online friendships
  • About online dating
  • How to deal with rejection and other negative interactions
  • About the criminal/legal issues and misleading aspects of pornography
Key Words

There are many specific technical words used to describe internet use and safety. We define many of them below. Throughout this section they will be in bold, so you can refer back to this page if needed.

Cyberharassment: Harassing people online in order to provoke them, scare them, humiliate them, threaten them, or otherwise make them feel bad. May vary in level of severity and intentions. It’s possible to harass someone either by accident or intentionally. For example, an impatient person might unintentionally harass a romantic interest with a string of messages if not receiving a response (“Why aren’t you responding? Hello? Are you there? Please respond to me”). Someone else might intentionally try to harm a person’s reputation or emotional state by, for example, sharing photos of the person almost or fully naked on social media, or sending undesired, sexually explicit photos to the person.

Cyberbullying: Bullying includes saying or writing mean things, hurting someone’s reputation or relationships, or physically hurting someone. Cyberbullying is bullying that happens on social media, internet forums, messaging services, or by phone, tablet, or gaming platform. Cyberbullying may include threats, harassment, or repeated contact after being told to stop talking to someone, hacking into social media accounts, impersonating someone, posting or sending personal information or photos of another person without permission, or excluding someone from online activities.

Cyberstalking: A serious form of cyberharassment that occurs when someone (whether an anonymous stranger or someone familiar) persistently monitors or follows a person with bad intent. Cyberstalkers may seriously harm you online or in person if they are able to find information about your location or day-to-day life. (For example, a 50-year-old man becomes angry because a woman rejected his romantic and sexual advances online. He finds out where the woman goes to school and begins following and harassing her before eventually being arrested.)

Digital footprint: A trail of data or information that you create while using the internet, often without knowing it. This includes the websites you visit, emails you send, information you give to online services (shopping websites, political action groups, etc.), and posts or comments that you make on websites.

Doxing: Looking for and posting private or identifying information about someone on the internet, usually with negative intent or motivation.

Identity theft: Fraud using someone else’s private information, usually for financial gain.

Online dating: Searching for a romantic or sexual partner on the internet or through cell phone or tablet apps, often through one or more dedicated dating websites (Tinder, Match.com, etc.).

Personal information: Any information that could be used to identify you, find more information about you, or steal your identity. Your full name, address, phone number, email address, schools you have attended, passwords, and social security number or credit card numbers are personal information. Pictures often also contain personal information, like addresses, and some people can use a picture to locate you.

Sexting: Sending or receiving sexual photos or messages by mobile phone. Sexual photos can include nudity (breasts, buttocks, genitals, etc.), but may also include clothed but sexually suggestive photos. 

Sexually explicit material/pornography: Sexually explicit materials (SEM) range from written stories that describe sexual activities, to cartoons or animé with sexual elements, to photos or videos depicting real people engaged in sexual activities. Pornography usually refers to photos or videos showing sexual activities.

Social media: Websites and applications (apps) that let users create and share content and link up or connect with other people online (for example, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, WhatsApp, Wikia, Snapchat, and YouTube).

Troll: A person who posts deliberately offensive or provocative messages online with the intent of provoking others. Posts by trolls are usually unwanted by others.

What Information Is Safe to Share Online?

Unfortunately, not everyone who goes online is nice or has good intentions. For example, some people go online to troll, cyberbully, dox, or harm others. These people are often unavoidable, so it’s likely that you will come across some of them if you haven’t already. According to PrivacyRights.org, 70% of internet users between the ages of 18-24 have experienced some form of online harassment.

In order to protect yourself from these people, it’s important to consider the personal information you share online. You may have heard that you shouldn’t share your full name, address, school, social security number, or other personal information online. That’s because people can use this information to steal your identity or do things like open credit cards in your name, for which you would then have to pay the charges!

Another reason not to share your personal information online is that some people are very good at using the internet to find out more about you. For example, if you share your first name and the school you attend or where you work, someone may be able to figure out your email address. This person could then harass or cyberstalk you by sending you emails, calling or coming to you at school or work, or simply threatening to do these things.

For these reasons, it’s important to take steps to safeguard any information you share online, including:

  • Search for yourself online. Type your name, phone number, email address, or username into a search engine and see what comes up. This is your digital footprint. Some people are surprised to find their addresses, pictures, social media profiles, or posts on news sites or forums like Reddit and Tumblr. If you find something that you would prefer to keep private, check your social media privacy settings or ask the website to delete the information (for example, Whitepages.com shows addresses but may delete the information if you contact them through their website).
  • Check your privacy settings. Many social media and other websites give you the option of deciding who can contact you and see your profile. Make sure that your profiles are shared with friends and family only.
  • If you have posted on the internet, look at your posts. If your parents, future employer, or significant other see the posts, what might they think or feel? If you’re unsure, you could ask a parent or a trusted friend. If you think someone might be concerned about your posts, consider removing them.
  • Do these activities regularly. New websites are created every day, so it’s important to check your digital footprint at least once every few months to make sure new information about you hasn’t been posted.
Meeting People Online

The world is full of people from many different backgrounds and cultures. The internet can be a great place to overcome physical barriers and meet these people to learn new ideas and ways of doing things, or to share similar interests and experiences. In this section, you will learn how to safely interact with others online and form meaningful and positive relationships.

Exercise Caution and Develop Trust

People online can be very nice and genuinely interested in bonding with others. Many develop friendships or romantic relationships online.  At first, it’s common practice to use aliases or screennames that don’t contain personally identifying information. Once you meet someone online that you want to share your real name or other information with, consider talking to a parent or other trusted person first. You can discuss why you feel you can trust this person, and together with your parent or friend decide whether it is safe to reveal your name or other information. Some people choose to video call people they meet online (for example, to make sure their age and gender match what they have said). If someone tries to get you to tell them personal information before you are ready to trust them (such as your home or work address, or full name), they’re not being a good friend.

It’s important to be aware that people online can be anonymous. Sometimes, people give false information about themselves, their identity, experiences, and intentions for a variety of reasons. For example:

  • A child may say she’s an adult to bypass online spaces that have age restrictions.
  • Somebody may give a false name or location in order to protect their identity.
  • A 50-year-old male police officer may say that he’s an 11-year-old girl in order to catch online sexual predators in the act.
  • Somebody may say that they’re interested in friendship when really they’re interested in something else, like financial gain or sexual activities.

When you first meet people online, be mindful of their intentions and don’t give away personal information, even if they seem like they could be trustworthy friends. This is particularly true if you’re open about having autism, as doing so may attract people who want to cyberbully or take advantage of you (remember, it is always your decision to disclose that you have autism). If you’re having a discussion with someone and it starts to get uncomfortable, it’s best to leave the situation.

If the situation escalates and someone seriously threatens to stalk or harm you in some way:

  • Ask a trusted friend or adult as soon as possible for help on how to deal with them.
  • Take screenshots and records of the incident in case the situation escalates further and you need to take legal action in the future.
  • Block them and remove any trail of identifying information you may have so that they can’t find you.

As soon as you’re able to stop worrying about them, you can continue to spend your time hanging out with people who make you feel positive! As with offline relationships, the benefit of making online connections – whether they are friendly, romantic, or sexual in nature – often outweighs the risk of getting hurt. Don’t let one bad experience with one person keep you from trying in the future!

 Age of Consent

Meet Steven, a 22-year-old with autism. Steven met Hannah online and got to know her for a few weeks. Although she initially said that she was 17 years old, she later revealed that she was only 14. The problem is that Steven lives in Nevada, where the age of sexual consent is 16. By this time, Steven had developed feelings for Hannah. Steven was conflicted, but eventually decided to continue talking with her about meeting up and having sex.

Unfortunately for Steven, Hannah was an undercover police officer, and he was arrested for having sexual conversations with her. If you learn that someone is under the age of sexual consent in your state (that is often based on your age and how many years younger the other person is than you), stop talking to them. 

Making Friends Online003-online-chatgraphic-icon

Many people make online friends, whether it’s through video games, forums, or social media websites.

Here are some ways you can meet people online and potentially make friends: 
  • Connect with people in real life (friends, classmates, relatives) through social media websites, including Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. This allows you to stay in touch without having a lot of one-on-one conversation.
  • Join online groups where people gather to discuss shared interests and hobbies. For example, Tumblr.com is a blogging platform that has a large autism community but also has a diverse user base. Reddit.com is also a popular social news and discussion website.
    • Always browse a website first to understand how it works and how people interact with the content. By reading the Comments sections, you can see to what extent the site attracts trolls, and whether the site would be a good match for you given your age and interests.
    • Search for forums, keywords, or discussion topics that interest you. When you’re ready, contribute your own comments and questions and see how people respond.
    • If there’s someone who is actively contributing to a discussion thread and you want to reach out to them in hopes of starting a friendship, start by asking relevant questions and see how they respond.
  • Play online multiplayer video games and send friend requests to people you enjoy as members of your team. They may be interested in playing with you in the future, too! By working together towards a common goal, there’s less pressure to have personal conversations. Example multiplayer games include Minecraft, Call of Duty, League of Legends, and Fortnite.
Here are some ways you can maintain friendships online:
  • Discussion threads and comments
    • People sometimes mirror each other’s body language when they like each other in real life. In the same way, it is helpful to mimic other people’s communication style, or how they write, online. For example, some people use text abbreviations and all lowercase text; others are more formal and use standard capitalization, spelling, grammar and mechanics (using this by default helps to avoid miscommunication). Some use a lot of exclamation marks or emoticons; others are less expressive.
    • Interact with others as quickly and as often as they do – without overdoing it. This means trying to send the same number of messages within the same amount of time. For example, if someone responds to you three days after your initial message to them, take the same amount of time to respond with a single reply with a message that is of similar length. Don’t message them significantly more than they message you, or demand an immediate response time. It is quite possible that they are busy doing other things, forget to respond, or have a habit of not responding back immediately. You may also be busy sometimes and unable to respond quickly! Messaging people repeatedly without a response can be considered a type of harassment.
    • If you send a private message to someone and they appear open and responsive, continue to ask questions that are on topic and share your own thoughts. Open-ended questions give more opportunity for them to respond than yes-no questions.
    • Be kind. Avoid making personal attacks, inflammatory comments, or being to disagreeable. Remember, your goal is to make people want to continue interacting with you in the future!
  • Video games
    • Some people who play video games may not be interested in making friends. And, worse, some people may become aggressive with you for a variety of reasons. Don’t encourage those negative behaviors by showing you’re upset. If anyone bothers you, ignore them or tell them to stop. If that does not work, then block, report, or leave them immediately. Avoid letting those few unpleasant interactions ruin your overall fun by taking a break or immediately balancing it out with a positive one.
    • Suggest scheduling reasonable times to play as a team. Or, suggest specific gaming strategies and activities that everyone would enjoy trying out.
    • If you want to create your own team, be careful not to offend anyone who has already organized one or might feel excluded.
    • Offer in-game gifts and continue to do so if they respond in kind.
    • Be a good team player who is fun to play with. This means playing your team role, contributing to the goal, and being reliable. Show people that you are excited and thankful for their accomplishments.
    • When there is a lull in the game, ask people light questions, such as “how’s your day been?” and continue the conversation based on how they respond. Small talk can help you gradually develop meaningful friendships. Just be sure not to prioritize talking too much over the game itself!

Many people who are committed to developing and maintaining friendships online sometimes find that their relationships grow into in-person friendships or even romantic relationships.

Online Friends and Relationships
Online Dating

022-onlinedatingteal-seg-graphic-iconMany people (on and off the autism spectrum) find it easier to meet friends or dating partners online than in person. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for people to online date. Many romantic relationships begin online, if not naturally through shared interests, then often through dating apps or websites. Examples include OKCupid, Tinder, Coffee Meets Bagel, and eHarmony. People who’re interested in finding partners create profiles about themselves, usually with pictures. Some people may be looking for one-time sexual partners, while others are looking for long-term, committed relationships. Many people will indicate who they are looking for in their profiles. Some websites are targeted for specific groups, such as Christian Mingle for Christians, Spectrum Singles for people on the autism spectrum, Sea Captain Dating for people interested in dating a sea captain, or Grindr for gay men.

Some online dating websites offer limited information such as a profile picture, name, age, and what the person is looking for (dates, friendship, hookups, etc.). Often these sites ask you to decide if you are interested in learning more about the person or messaging the person based on this limited information. If both you and the other person say you are interested, the site will allow you to access the other person’s full profile and message them.

 

Dating Profile 2 (1)

Other dating websites allow you to see the other person’s full profile, which may include their likes, dislikes, occupation, and more. These types of sites often rely on a matching system and ask you to take personality quizzes or to rank your likes and dislikes so they can offer you profiles of people who are similar to you.

Dating Profile

Remember:

  • Dating websites are only for people above the age of 18.
  • Anyone can create a fake profile or include false information about themselves on dating websites.

If you match with someone on a dating website, then you know they’re interested in dating or discussing the possibility of dating you. The next step is to talk to them through messaging services on the website.

Tips for messaging:

  • In your first message, you might say hello.
    • You could say, “Hi! I am excited that we have matched and hope to get to know you.”
  • Ask them questions about themselves. Do not ask them things that they have already said in their profile. Instead, ask them to tell you more about what they expressed interest in.
    • For example: “I saw that you are into science fiction – so am I! The last great book I read was [great science fiction book that you love] – what about you?”
  • When messaging with someone, it is normal to have a delay between messages. Some people may get distracted or may have other commitments. Or, they may need some time to figure out how to best respond. You shouldn’t send multiple messages if they do not answer you right away. Most likely, they will write back as soon as they can.
  • People have different preferences about how long they talk before they meet up. Some people like to talk briefly before meeting in person in a public space, while others like to talk for weeks or longer.
    • After you’ve talked to someone for a few days, you could ask them what they usually like to do and then decide what you would like to do together.
  • Be cautious when bringing up sex before meeting someone in person. Although some people enjoy conversations about sex, many don’t appreciate it when potential dates bring up sex immediately after they match, brag about their sexual skills, or give overly detailed descriptions of the sex that they would like to have. Most people like it if you get to know them romantically before bringing up sex. You also want to see yourself if you like the person. As you’re getting to know someone, you won’t always know what kind of relationship you might have or want to have with them (or if you want a relationship at all).
You Are Your Own Boss

As you meet new people on the internet, some of them may ask you to do things that make you feel uncomfortable. For example, some people enjoy talking explicitly about sex, while others don’t. You never have to talk about sex with someone if you don’t want to or if it makes you uncomfortable. Similarly, you never have to feel pressured to send someone a picture, text a message, or do anything else (such as a video chat) that makes you uncomfortable. If someone tries to get you to do something that you don’t want to after you told them “no,” that’s a red flag that they can’t be trusted to honor your wishes or respect you in the future.

What to do if someone asks you to talk about or do something that you don’t want to do:

Step 1: Tell them “no.” You don’t have to explain why. You can simply say, “No thank you. I’m not interested in that.” Or “No, I don’t want to.”  

Step 2: Leave the website or chat room.

Step 3: If it is a website you often visit and the same person keeps bothering you, block and report the person to the website. Most websites have a feature that allows you to report people who are being abusive or bothering you.

Step 4: If you are upset and want support, talk to someone you trust about the situation. They can help you understand what happened and hopefully avoid other negative interactions in the future.

Treat others the way you would like to be treated. If you want to talk about sex with someone, ask them first. If they say “no,” respect their wishes. Remember, some people may have had negative or traumatic experiences around sexuality in the past, and it may be painful for them to talk about sex. Other people just don’t like talking about sex, and that’s perfectly okay!

Going From Online to Meeting in Person

Meeting people online sometimes leads to meeting them in person. There are many precautions you can take when meeting someone for the first time.

  • The first time you meet someone, you should meet in public, spend time together in public, and leave in public. This is critically important.
  • Create a Google Voice phone number for free. Instead of using your real phone number, give this number to people you don’t know very well. Some people wait 2-3 months to give people their real contact information.
  • Before you meet someone in person, tell family or friends who, where, and when you are meeting.
  • Plan to check in with family or friends again after your meeting ends so that they know you’re safely home.
  • Meet and spend time together only in public for at least three meetings. Never allow someone to give you a ride or pick you up from your house the first time you meet, as they will then know where you live.
  • Never go to someone’s house or invite them to your house the first time you meet them.
  • Some people choose to meet in a group or bring a friend the first time they meet a new person.
Handling Online Rejection

People will sometimes talk to you online and then decide later that they don’t want to meet or continue talking to you. This happens to everyone who does online dating. It doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong or that you are not a likable and desirable person! There are many reasons why someone may decide to stop talking to you – they could be anxious, overwhelmed with obligations, or might have started dating someone and decided to stop looking for new partners. 

  • If someone stops talking to you for a few days and you’re not sure if they want to keep talking, you could say something like, “I was enjoying our conversation and am open to talking again in the future if you want!”
  • Avoid harassing them (texting or messaging them repeatedly, demanding that they talk to you, or asking why they are not interested).
  • Avoid calling them names.

You may feel really sad or frustrated if someone stops talking to you suddenly; these are normal feelings that happen to everyone. Keep in mind that there are plenty of other people online to talk to.

The screenshot on the left is a polite, appropriate way to respond to rejection. The screenshot on the right is an impolite and inappropriate way to respond to rejection.

Sexting: Sexual Texts and Selfies

Some teens and adults share sexts (sexual texts or photos of themselves) with their partners. Some people find sexting helpful for keeping a sexual connection in long-distance relationships. Others find it fun, sexy, or get a confidence boost from their partners when engaging in sexting. Sending sexual texts and photos should be consensual, meaning that both the sender and the receiver have agreed to the exchange.

Like sex, sexting has a number of potentially negative consequences:
  • Once you send a text or picture of yourself to someone else, you no longer have control over what happens to it. The other person can show it to someone else or post it online without your knowledge or consent. If the picture or video contains your face or other identifying characteristics that are visible when you are clothed (for example, tattoos on your arm or leg), it can make it easy for people to identify you.
  • Once you post a picture or video of yourself online, it can never truly be erased.
  • Sexual photos or videos that are posted online can have negative personal and professional consequences for you if they are seen by people who you do not want to see them. For example, friends, parents, future employers, or romantic partners could see these pictures or videos. One of the most common negative consequences of sexting is fear that people who were not meant to see the photos will see them.

For these reasons, it is important to establish a relationship of trust before sharing sexual texts and photos with someone.

Sexting Gone Wrong

Charlotte sent a selfie to her boyfriend of her in just her underwear. Her boyfriend then forwarded to a group of his friends. Someone then posted her picture on an adult website. Charlotte didn’t know that the picture was posted online, she thought it had been kept between her and her boyfriend. OAR_ChainReaction_FinalArt (00000002)

 *Did you know?

It’s against the law for people under the age of 18 to share nude or sexual photos of themselves. It’s considered a type of child pornography. Police and courts have arrested and prosecuted both the teens who have taken nude photos of themselves and anyone who received the sext. 

Remember, the same types of people who you should not have a romantic or sexual relationship with are also people who should not be sexting you. Teachers, bosses, helpers, and family members should never send you or ask you for sexual texts and photos. If they do, it is a form of sexual harassment, and you should seek support. (Information on this can be found in the Healthy Relationships section.)

Respecting privacy
  • If someone sends you sexual texts or photos, respect their privacy by making sure no one else can see them!
  • Remember to keep the contents of notification pop-ups hidden, and not to leave your phone unlocked and unattended for others to accidentally see. It’s also inappropriate to store or display the photo in ways that can be easily seen by others, such as in an unlocked folder or as a home screen background.
  • Showing or forwarding a sexual text or photo that was meant only for you could lead to negative consequences, such as ruining the relationship or legal consequences in some states.
  • Even if you break up or are upset with the person, it is never okay to share, forward, or post sexual photos of someone else without their consent.

If someone sends you sexual photos even though you did not ask for or agree to receiving them:

  • This is a warning that this person may do other sexual things without your consent. They shouldn’t be trusted.
  • You can choose to ignore or report them. Many websites have features that allow you to report abuse, and sending sexual photos without consent is abuse.
  • If a person you know in real life (versus online life) sends you sexual photos even though they do not have a romantic or sexual relationship with you, choose a safe person (like your parents or a trusted friend) to tell. Your safe person can help you block this person, report them, or otherwise handle the situation.
  • When someone sends you sexual photos that you have not asked for and/or do not want, this is a type of sexual harassment.

If someone asks you for sexual photos or you want to send sexual photos to someone:

  • Remember that you never have to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
  • Make sure you know the person well and have developed trust with them because there are consequences if your photos are posted online or shared. The time it takes to establish trust varies and may look different depending on the social context, your interactions, and how open you are with each other.
  • Avoid including your face or identifying marks in the photos.
  • Don’t send sexual photos to someone without their agreement and consent. People who receive sexual photos without agreeing to do so have said that they feel a range of negative emotions, from annoyed, to disgusted, to disturbed. Even if you’d like to receive sexual photos and think someone else would too, it’s never okay to send photos without asking the other person first.
Sexually Explicit Material and Pornography

Sexually explicit material includes anything describing or depicting sexuality with the goal of being erotic (arousing) rather than artistic or educational. This may include videos, pictures, or written stories. It may include real people engaged in sexual activity or it may be cartoons or animé with sexual elements. Sexually explicit material is often referred to as pornography or porn.

Keep private matters private

Many people get very uncomfortable about pornography or sexually explicit material. It is a subject that people often don’t talk about because it is a private and controversial activity. While many people choose not to look at or use sexually explicit material, the reality is that some people do so to help facilitate masturbation, for example. If you choose to use sexually explicit materials, it’s important to keep such materials private. This means:

  • Don’t view sexually explicit materials of any kind in a public place (for example, on your cell phone at school, at the movie theater, on computers at the public library).
  • Don’t view sexually explicit materials on a device that does not belong to you (for example, on a school computer).
  • Don’t leave pornographic websites open on your computer when you are finished viewing them.
  • Consider clearing the search history on shared computers after viewing pornography.

Note: While sexually explicit material should be kept private in general, you can still ask questions or ask for support if you experience something that makes you uncomfortable. It’s always okay to talk with someone you trust (a family member, a therapist, etc.) if you are confused or uncomfortable.

Adam, an 18-year-old on the autism spectrum, sometimes enjoys looking at sexual photos in his bathroom at home. This is private and okay. However, Adam sometimes saves pornographic photos to his phone as the background picture. When Adam’s family or other people he knew saw these photos, they felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. 

 Pornography vs. Real Life

It’s natural to be curious about what sexual activities are like. Some people turn to pornography to get a sense of what sex is like. However, it’s very important to understand that sex as it is portrayed in pornography is neither natural nor real and, therefore, can cause confusion and frustration.

Meet Gary, a 24-year-old with autism. One day when Gary was hanging out with his older cousin, Rick, Rick asked what kind of job he wanted. Gary recalls a video he watched online. In it, a pizza delivery man arrives at a woman’s house to deliver food, and then proceeds to engage in sexual activities with her.

Gary responds, “I want to be a pizza delivery man,” and goes on to explain why by describing the porn video. Rick at first laughs, but then stares at Gary uncomfortably when he realizes he is being serious. Gary doesn’t realize what is wrong until his cousin explains to him explicitly that the porn video was fake, and that pizza delivery men don’t actually have sex with strangers in their homes when they delivery food. From then on, Gary assumed that scenarios that occur in porn videos are often fake, and decided he should learn more about sex from other resources.

 Things to keep in mind about sexually explicit materials or pornography:
  1. Most sexually explicit materials don’t show what sex between people is really like. Pornography is made to show fantasies and make money, not to teach or educate.

For example, pornographic videos often feature actors that don’t look like most people (they are younger, more physically fit, and may have bodies enhanced by plastic surgery, like breast implants, etc.). Pornographic videos frequently portray unrealistic ways of initiating sex in unusual situations that would be inappropriate if done in real life.

  1. Pornography sometimes depicts extreme sexual interactions that seem degrading or de-humanizing to many people, such as people being hurt or embarrassed on purpose. Most people do not engage in extreme sexual behaviors, and if they do, it is done with intense trust and a lot of communicating about boundaries first.
  2. Sexual videos are filmed with the viewer in mind. Therefore, people choose positions and acts that entertain rather than showing what most people actually enjoy doing. For example, in many videos, there is little full-body contact between the actors because this would get in the way of you seeing their bodies, yet many people like full-body contact during sex.
  3. Pornography rarely shows people talking. The videos or photos don’t show people talking about what they enjoy or don’t enjoy, or whether or not they’re enjoying the activity they’re engaged in. They also don’t talk about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or preventive measures like using condoms and STI testing. This is because the actors in pornography discuss these things before filming begins.
Real-life sex

Sex between two consenting adults should always be healthy, safe, and enjoyable. If you engage in sexual activity with someone, you should always discuss STIs and safe sex first.

Some people say that their partners will try new sexual activities with them without asking first because they saw these activities in pornography. Good partners who care about consent and enjoyment never assume they know what their partner wants. If you would like to try something, it’s very important that you talk with your partner about it first and then decide together how to proceed. If communicating verbally about this is difficult for you, you may try other ways of communicating. For example, some people write a “user manual” for themselves that explains their likes and boundaries in advance. They can then share this “user manual” with partners.

For more information on sexual activities, go to the Sexual Activity section.

Important Legal Reminders

Sexually explicit materials involving children or animals are illegal. This includes sexual videos, photos, or stories showing or describing people under the age of 18.

  • Do not search for sexually explicit materials with words like “young,” “teen,” “girl,” or “boy.”
  • If you see materials showing people who you think may be children or teens under the age of 18, do not watch them, and close your web browser.

These types of materials are illegal because in many states, it’s illegal for children and teens under the age of 18 to have sex. People may have made these videos or photos against the child or teen’s wishes, and the underage person may have been harmed during the making of these videos.

If you watch or download pornography or other sexually explicit materials that include children, you may be arrested, sent to prison, and added to the sex offender registry, which makes it difficult to find places to live and work. For all of these reasons, it’s important never to use sexually explicit materials involving children or teens under the age of 18.

Conclusion

The internet is a great place to connect with friends, online date, develop relationships, and talk about lots of things. Connecting with people online can be fun, but it is important to keep yourself safe online.

Key Takeaways 
  • Never share your personal details with anyone online, including social security number, full birthdate, and financial information.
  • Assume that any information you share on public websites can be found by anyone.
  • You never have to do, share, or post anything online that you do not want to.
  • If you see or experience something online that makes you uncomfortable, talk with someone you trust about it.
  • Take precautions when meeting online people in real life for the first few times.
  • Never engage with or use sexually explicit materials involving children or teens under the age of 18.

Online Safety Quiz

Disclaimer

Information found on OAR’s Sex Ed. for Self-Advocates website, related videos, resources, and links are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Users of the site should consult with a physician or other health care provider to discuss specific concerns if they require further information or clarity.