Implications Of The Net Neutrality Ruling For Sex Education

If you haven’t heard much about what the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled on net neutrality recently, this New York Times blog provides a clear run-through of the ruling. Basically, the ruling states that internet service providers (like Verizon) are not required to handle all internet traffic equally. Internet content creators can pay the service providers to move their content through the channels more quickly, thus providing preferential treatment to those internet content providers who have more money.

The implications of this for sex education – and for the internet world of sex in general – are disturbing. If certain sites are loading faster, that might dissuade internet users to go out of their way to find other sites. I can think of a few ways this might play out:

  • Fact-based sex education sites might not get as much traffic as abstinence-only sites, depending on who has more money to throw at internet service providers.
  • Other political agendas could come forward, such as pro-life sites (which are, like the above example, not always fact-based) beating pro-choice sites to the faster connections.
  • Less-mainstream-oriented sex and relationship sites, ranging from informational sites to erotic/pornographic or dating sites, could find themselves taking a backseat to the more heteronormative versions, thus making it harder for people who practice alternative sexualities to connect with others like them.

These are just a few possibilities of the net neutrality ruling. I worry that with our “Hollywood sex education” (which is to say, not enough fact-based sex ed and way more media hype that obscures healthy ways to actually have sex and be in relationships), more and more people will be seeking evidence-based sex education online – and not be able to find it. This has personal as well as public-health consequences.

Hopefully it won’t be as bad as Britain’s new firewall policy, which Cory Doctorow explains in The Guardian as a stunt to “pander to [parental] fears, offer false hope, and impose a regime of unaccountable censorship upon the nation’s internet in order to score votes from frightened parents.” One instance of firewalling gone wrong occurs when a particular ISP “blocks rape-crisis centres; award-winning, kid-focused sex-ed sites; and sites for helping people with their pornography addictions.”

I’ve heard from friends that they can’t always load MSP when in public libraries or while using city-provided internet, and we’re a site oriented toward helping people learn about sex, promoting tolerance of gender and sexual diversity, and offering advice on relationships and self-discovery. In other words, there’s not a lot of pornographic or lascivious content here (as though it were easy to define what’s pornographic – it’s not!) and yet we still face blocks in reaching our readers. I’m hoping that the new net neutrality ruling doesn’t make the situation worse.

About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.