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Feature Medicine and the Media

Online sexual health advice? Access denied

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 17 October 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g6271
  1. Meg Carter, freelance journalist, Bath, UK

The UK government is forcing internet providers to offer users filtering of content that may be unsuitable for children, but charities are worried that it may inadvertently reduce access to sexual and other health advice. Meg Carter reports

Filters designed to restrict children accessing online pornography pose a “growing concern,” charities have warned, especially for organisations distributing sexual health information to young people. British internet service providers (ISPs) have until 31 December to require all UK broadband customers to make “an unavoidable choice” about using so called family filters.

“The perception is that ISPs’ family filters relate just to adult content, but they are having an impact beyond content which is obviously porn,” Emma Thomas, chief executive of the UK charity YouthNet, which provides online advice on topics including sexual health, mental wellbeing, and drugs, told The BMJ.

“A large number of charities simply aren’t aware of the range of subjects these filters can inadvertently block.”

“A young person in crisis—be that relating to sexual, mental, or physical health; abuse; or fear—needs to be certain if they go online for support they can access it,” said Jules Hillier, deputy chief executive of sexual health charity Brook. …

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