While the Internet offers us a plethora of knowledge and a wide variety of resources, it can also bring some unwanted consequences that subconsciously shape the way we think and form opinions. Online content and Internet activities with sexual connotations are widespread, and by and large, have an impact on sexual attitudes, perception of other genders, and even relationships between couples! In a society like Pakistan, where sexual education is non-existent and querying about it is frowned upon, even learning to ask the right questions can be incredibly difficult. Here, the internet acts as the primary mode of gathering information, amplifying one’s reliance on technology as an “absolute source.”
the internet acts as the primary mode of gathering information, amplifying one’s reliance on technology as an “absolute source”
Perceptions of masculinity
When it comes to men, the issue becomes much more layered. For as long as one can recall, mainstream media representations have played a role in reinforcing ideas about what it means to be a “real” man in our society. In most media portrayals, male characters are rewarded for self-control and the control of others, aggression and violence, financial independence, and physical desirability. The internet has simply carried this forward, opening up access to not only popular media forums, but also providing spaces where hyper-masculine portrayals can be discussed, and potentially glorified.
This adversely impacts adolescent boys in particular. In an article on how children perceive and consume media, psychologists Maya Götz and Dafna Lemish note that girls generally pick and choose what media content to integrate into their imaginary worlds – an approach the authors summarize as “leave something out, take something in and dissociate from it.” Boys, on the other hand, tend to incorporate media content into their own imaginations wholesale, “taking it in, assimilating it, and then taking the story further.” According to Götz and Lemish, “boys… dream themselves into the position of their heroes and experience a story similar to the one in the original medium.”
“boys… dream themselves into the position of their heroes and experience a story similar to the one in the original medium.”
All of this guarantees that men emulate the ways they are represented, in sexual exchanges too, taking on roles of “instigators”, and “aggressors”, while downplaying their own feelings of vulnerability and emotional upheaval.
Pornography: The Teacher
Another major way the internet warps men’s perceptions of sexuality is through the proliferation of pornography. Pornography is easily accessible and often presents unrealistic and unhealthy ideas about sex, such as the need for physical perfection and the prevalence of aggression and domination. These portrayals can create pressure on men to live up to these false standards and can lead to distorted views of consent and healthy relationships.
According to Google, Pakistan currently tops the list for most porn-searching countries, and with little to no sexual awareness formally available, it becomes the go-to standard for viewers to perceive their sexual lives, performance, and interactions. Research by the Pakistani Medical Association has shown that excessive pornography usage has led to negative impacts on relationships as sexual desires in the participants were found to be significantly diminished and the viewers showed heightened expectations from their partners. Additionally, pornography was a significant factor in the perception that violent sex or sex without consent is allowed and enjoyed by women, a notion that holds severely harmful consequences.
The rise of misinformation
The fact that there is an overwhelming amount of information available online, making it difficult to discern what is accurate and reliable, means there is a large amount of misinformation about sexual health and wellness. A study published in the National Library of Medicine indicated that 54% of all articles present online about sexual health and wellness have some form of misinformation. This can lead to men believing in myths and misconceptions about sexual health, such as the idea that condoms are not effective at preventing STIs or that certain foods or supplements can increase testosterone levels, leading to serious consequences for men’s sexual and reproductive health.
The internet has had a significant impact on men’s perceptions of sexuality and wellness, and it is important for men to be aware of how it is influencing their beliefs and behaviors. It is crucial to critically evaluate the information available online and to prioritize one’s own well-being. By being mindful of these issues, men can make informed and healthy decisions about their sexual and reproductive health, needs, and those of their partners.