University of São Paulo: From social networks to sexuality, high school students develop research projects

A project developed by USP, Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) and Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) promotes scientific and technological culture in elementary and high school students through the development of research in several areas of knowledge, under the guidance of of university professors. Professor Vera Paiva , a professor at the Institute of Psychology (IP) at USP , who coordinates the Thematic Project Vulnerabilities of young people to STIs/HIV and violence between partners: evaluation of rights-based psychosocial interventions humans, from the Research Support Foundation of the State of São Paulo (Fapesp). Among the studies carried out by a high school group, a survey stood out in raising a debate on the online sale of packs by women, a form of pornography that became popular in the pandemic, including among minors.

The initiative emerged as a way to adapt the project to distance learning models, due to the covid-19 pandemic. Without face-to-face classes, so that they could maintain activities in the nine schools in São Paulo, Santos and Sorocaba, interested students had the opportunity to integrate research groups and receive scientific pre-initiation grants.


Professor Vera Paiva – Photo: Personal archive
The USP professors involved in the project were divided among the cities to guide the groups of junior researchers, which exceeded 60 students in 2021. Participants were introduced to the themes of the project, studied the ethics and methodology of scientific research and carried out studies on the subjects they considered most relevant — in addition to the opportunity to participate and support other research procedures, such as questionnaires, interviews and focus groups.

As contact with the classes began before the pandemic, research was able to evolve along with the thematic project, with the new changes caused by the coronavirus, which allowed for in-depth case studies, says Jan Billand, IP researcher and project supervisor . “Students were able to understand the principles of scientific research, the ethics involved, particularly in the context in which they found themselves, marked by important anti-science political movements, represented by the current federal government but also present in their families and schools”, he adds.


Research group on youth health and human rights – Photo: Personal archive

According to Billand, students also highlighted that learning to do scientific research helped them to identify fake news , as they learned to filter information, search for and evaluate the existence and quality of sources and the method used to reach a conclusion. According to these students, scientific pre-initiation taught them to think critically about the world in which they live.

Among the works, in São Paulo, students investigated the dissemination of fake news and covid-19 prevention practices. In Santos, they held prevention workshops based on the production of memes. In Sorocaba, they produced short videos aimed at disseminating preliminary research results on sex education, racism and non-binary gender identities.

Pandemic and the pack market

In Sorocaba, a group of students from the team coordinated by Marcos Garcia, from UFSCar, became interested in researching affective and sexual relationships in the pandemic. The topic was approached through the reading of related texts and lectures by researchers.

The theme of the study developed by this group arose from the perception of one of the students about the “selling of packs ” — a topic hitherto unknown by teachers because they did not browse Twitter, a digital platform where this type of sexual content became popular during the pandemic. Packs are albums of erotic or pornographic photos or videos, produced and marketed online, usually by the models themselves. “ To build the categories of analysis, we gathered a preliminary corpus of interviews already published in the press with camgirlsand other people selling content on digital platforms and we discussed these readings with the class, along with the reading of a scientific article on how sex work articulates with the everyday and affective life of sex workers in a more traditional context”, details the advisor.

Next, the high school students in this group collected posts on social networks, with the aim of analyzing reports of the experience of the “sw” ( sex workers , as they call themselves) and the opinions about this practice of those who are not on the job. market. The study Women who produce and sell their own sexual content on the internet: reports and debates in accessible online media for adolescents and young people was presented at the 29th International Symposium on Scientific and Technological Initiation at US P (SIICUSP) and became a subject of Fantástico , from Rede Globo, on January 9. The research is innovative, according to the researcher, as there are no published works on the subject.

Pack market on social networks – Photo: Personal archivePack market on social networks – Photo: Personal archive
“It was interesting to observe that many reactions received on social media were in the form of support, based on the idea that the people (especially young women) selling packs would be people with financial difficulties and/or in need of support in a worthy business venture. be supported, mixing with the idea of ​​recognizing and valuing the beauty and diversity of female bodies and supporting the ‘self-esteem’ of the women involved”, says Billand.


Researcher Jan Billand – Photo: Personal archive
Some reports collected by the junior researchers evoke situations of precariousness aggravated by the pandemic, stigma, harassment, repression and leaks of images; other such reports emphasize financial gains and self-esteem benefits. The students related these apparent inequalities to the hierarchy of the value of bodies through the eyes of clients, based on racist, fatphobic and transphobic beauty standards — another issue addressed in the reports. The students also observed the presence of “sw” minors, although they are systematically denounced by the other practitioners.

In the advisor’s view, the school’s mission is to train citizens capable of dealing with the society in which they live; therefore, it should address this issue, within the framework of a literacy approach, as some programs do in other countries in relation to traditional pornography. It is necessary to create spaces where adolescents can reflect without judgment on these issues, receive quality information, necessary for them to make more conscious choices, and find support when they need it, and this would be a role ideally played in the school environment, he says.

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