Interview with Johanna Beato: social networks and their effects on sexuality
Sexuality is one of the areas of life influenced by the culture of social networks.
For better or worse, the social networks present on the Internet are here to stay, and for some years now they have been a regular part of the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people.
But they are not simply tools that we use to keep in touch with other people and access new information; they have their own operating dynamics, and their influence is such that in many respects social networks do not adapt to us, but rather we adapt our behavior patterns and our ways of thinking and feeling to them.
If we add to this the fact that it is teenagers and young adults who use them the most, it is not surprising that this virtual world has already developed a kind of culture of its own that starts from the screens and goes outward, shaping society in general.
Unsurprisingly, sexuality is one of the areas of everyday life that are influenced by the use of social networks. To understand how this interplay between the two spheres of life occurs we spoke with psychologist Johanna Beato..
Interview with Johanna Beato: the impact of social networks on how we experience sexuality
Johanna Beato Ardila is a General Health Psychologist with a practice in Bilbao, although she also performs online therapy; throughout her professional career she has specialized in the care of adults and adolescents, offering help with psychological and sexual problems with emotional causes. In this interview she gives us her perspective on the link between sexuality and the habitual use of social networks and everything that surrounds them in the Internet world.
Can the fact that social networks favor the dissemination of content in which attractive people are seen above all lead to insecurities in the sexual sphere? For example, causing complexes with one's own nudity.
What is mostly seen on social networks is the "pretty face" of people. People don't show their problems or insecurities, because that's not interesting, it doesn't sell. We tend to compare ourselves, and doing so with images of people in which this facet is shown can make us think we are not as good, not as attractive or, in short, damage our self-esteem, including in the sexual sphere.
That is why it is so important to be critical of what we see. We must be aware that behind a pretty picture there may be 20 other "ugly" ones, that there are filters and retouching and that what we see is not always the reality. We also have to think that every body is different and that does not make it any less beautiful.
This same phenomenon in which visibility is given almost exclusively to those who fit the canons of beauty, sometimes even from the artificial tricks of posing and photo editing, can make some people feel dissatisfied with the vast majority of sexual partners they get to have?
Nowadays, social networks have a great influence, especially on young people; even when it comes to flirting, we use applications in which, of course, we show the photos that we like the most of ourselves (either because we are more favored, it makes us more fun or shows a facet that we like).
It is clear that we all like to be liked, and if by changing the posture or editing a little we get to look more stylized, thinner... why shouldn't we? The problem comes when we prioritize physique over many other features.
For example, some dating apps give great importance to the physique (some even use ratings) which implies the design and what the user will look at. We also have a wide variety of people to choose from, even when we end up with one partner we can easily access more people. The fact of having so many options can cause insecurity to the user when choosing.
Of course we are the ones who finally choose based on what we give importance to (if it is important to me that the other person is an athlete, I will pay more attention to that, for example). If we prioritize the physical attractiveness of a partner to a great extent, somehow we will also try to look attractive, going so far as to use tricks in photos.
Ultimately it's a cycle. If we do not have access to people we consider attractive (this being the priority), our physical-based self-esteem can be damaged and we will look for people who appreciate our external beauty. We have to break the cycle and work with the person.
In the case of women, do you think that the aesthetic codes of digital platforms such as Instagram or TikTok make many young women feel pressured to make sexualizing use of their bodies almost constantly when it comes to showing themselves to others?
And not just women. I don't think there is a direct pressure, but there IS an indirect one. IF for example all your friends have done a more sexualized TikTok that is trending and you haven't, you may feel pressured to do it.
I also think that the topic of sex and sexuality is being lived more and more openly. This is why I consider it relevant to delve into whether that person wants to upload that video or photo because they want to or if they want to do it to be liked, and why they think they should sexualize their body or the content they post to do so. If it is the first option, let them do it because they want to, we must respect their way of living their sexuality as long as it is a conscious decision, that the real reason is their own decision and they know the consequences, such as that everything remains on the Internet.
Beyond the negative, does the popularization of social networks have potential positive effects on sexuality? For example, giving visibility to non-heterosexual minorities.
Of course, social networks themselves are not negative tools, but the use we make of them. Thanks to social networks, minorities, sexual orientations outside the heteronormative, different types of bodies, sexual identities, tastes... are made visible and this is always a positive thing.
In addition, they can also be a point of support, since you may not personally know someone with the same gender identity as yours, for example, but on digital platforms you can find groups formed by people with that identity, which helps the human feeling of belonging and to shape your personality and identity both sexually and globally.
What role should parents of young people play in helping them make good use of social networks?
To begin with, they should be aware of the potential positive and negative effects of screens and networks. Once informed, they should think about the limits they would like to have, such as no cell phones at the dinner table.
It is also important to set an example for them. It's hard to tell your sons or daughters to use their phones less or spend less time on Instagram when they do it too.
Once there is this awareness, it is important to sit down to talk and reach agreements on the hours of use of screens and networks, all adapted to the age and in a flexible and open to dialogue.
How can we work from psychology to help to live sexuality fully without it being negatively affected by social pressure dynamics and unrealistic expectations?
It is important to work on self-esteem and personal limits so that the person can carry out activities because he/she wants to and not because he/she wants to fit in. It is also important to work on adjusting expectations (about the first time, gender roles, the age at which the first sexual intercourse should take place...).
Another interesting aspect would be cognitive restructuring, dismantling some ideas about why they believe that what they see on a screen is better, why doing what others do or say will make them feel better, etc.
Finally, myths about sexuality should be dismantled and the person should be encouraged to live his or her sexuality as he or she wishes, accompanying psychotherapy with a broad and tolerant sex education.