Publication Details

McLelland, M. (2016). 'Not in front of the parents!’ Young people, sexual literacies and intimate citizenship in the internet age. Sexualities: studies in culture and society, 20 (1-2), 234-254.


Clause 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right 'to seek, receive or impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in art or in any other media of the child's voice'. However, there is one area in which this directive is constrained in various countries by domestic regulations curtailing children's access to information. That area is human sexuality. The arguments for and against children's access to sex education are well rehearsed. In this article, the author pursues a different angle, looking instead at the increasing restrictions placed upon young people's ability to imagine and communicate with each other about sexual issues, particularly in online settings. The advent of the internet and a range of social networking sites have not only enabled young people to access previously quarantined information about sexuality, but also to actively engage in forms of 'intimate citizenship' online. In this article, the author focuses on young people's online fan communities which use characters from popular culture such as Harry Potter or a range of Japanese manga and animation to imagine and explore sexual issues. 'Child abuse publications legislation' in Australia and elsewhere now criminalizes the representation of even imaginary characters who are or may only 'appear to be' under the age of 18 in sexual scenarios. Hence these children and young people are in danger of being charged with the offence of manufacturing and disseminating child pornography. Despite research into these fandoms that indicates that they are of positive benefit to young people in developing 'sexual literacies', there is increasingly diminishing space for young people under the age of 18 to imagine or communicate about sexuality, even in the context of purely fictional scenarios.

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