Teenagers learn more about sex from TikTok than at school

A survey of 2,000 social media users found 55 per cent of 16-24-year-olds felt this way.

More than half of young people in the UK believe that they have learned more about sex from TikTok than they ever did at school, a new study has found.

A survey of 2,000 social media users discovered 55 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds felt this way. This fell slightly to 46.5 per cent of 25 to 34-year-olds.

TikTok is one of the fastest growing social media platforms and is primarily used by a younger demographic. It has had over 50 billion views on the #health hashtag and over 1.5 billion views on the topic of sexual health.

The research, commissioned by Superdrug Online Doctor, set out to understand Brits’ use of social media for health information, including sexual health advice.

Six out of ten people questioned said they have seen untrue or misleading health information on TikTok, and one in 10 have actually taken action on advice that later turned out to be inaccurate.

The researchers note that health advice on social media can lead to positive action, such as checking on your sexual health or booking a doctor’s appointment, but it could also encourage a misinformed self-diagnosis and anxiety.

A young TikTok user from London feared the worst when she looked up her symptoms on TikTok. She said: “After noticing some irregularities in my vaginal health, I took to TikTok to see what these symptoms might mean and came away convinced that I had chlamydia. As I had not had unprotected sex in ages I assumed I had this STI for at least 6 months (a time period that can negatively impact women’s fertility).

“I was distraught, confused and scared. I was so convinced I went to a GP who informed me I simply had thrush – a really common yeast infection. If I had consulted my GP first instead of jumping on social media I could have saved myself a lot of sleepless nights.”

In response to the research, psychologist Smriti Joshi gave five tips for how to spot a misleading social post.

  1. Remember social media algorithms are created in a way to keep you hooked. It will feed you more of what you are already engaging with, which can stop you finding other options or seeking credible sources of information.
  2. Think critically and question the information – does it match up with other posts or news you’ve read? Don’t be afraid to go to your GP and ask for advice.
  3. Always check the source of the information – it should be from credible brands and credible organisations like the NHS or a qualified, licensed healthcare professional. Go directly to these websites to avoid misleading posts.
  4. Remember that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t take a concoction of herbs or do a certain challenge promising to lead to a positive physical or mental health outcome just because someone on a social media platform did it.

Gooseberry Planet offers a package of over 50 lesson plans, slides, digital workbooks and online games for children aged 5-13 years. Visit our website for more details.

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