Sex-Related Online Behaviors and Adolescents’ Body and Sexual Self-Perceptions
BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: This study investigated: (1) the prevalence and development of 2 receptive (sexually explicit Internet material [SEIM] use and sexual information seeking) and 2 interactive (cybersex and general social networking site [SNS] use) online behaviors in adolescence; (2) whether development of these behaviors predict adolescents’ body and sexual self-perceptions; and (3) whether parental strategies regarding adolescents’ Internet use reduce engagement in sex-related online behaviors.
METHODS: Four-wave longitudinal data among 1132 seventh- to 10th-grade Dutch adolescents (mean age at wave 1: 13.95 years; 52.7% boys) were collected. Developmental trajectories of sex-related online behaviors were estimated by using latent growth curve modeling. Self-perception outcomes at wave 4 and parental strategies predicting online behaviors were investigated by adding regression paths to growth models.
RESULTS: Boys occasionally and increasingly used SEIM. Patterns for girls’ SEIM use and boys’ and girls’ sexual information seeking and cybersex were consistently low. SNS use, however, was a common, daily activity for both. Higher initial levels and/or faster increases in sex-related online behaviors generally predicted less physical self-esteem (girls’ SNS use only), more body surveillance, and less satisfaction with sexual experience. Private Internet access and less parental rule setting regarding Internet use predicted greater engagement in sex-related online behaviors.
CONCLUSIONS: Although most sex-related online behaviors are not widespread among youth, adolescents who engage in such behaviors are at increased risk for developing negative body and sexual self-perceptions. Particular attention should be paid to adolescents’ SNS use because this behavior is most popular and may, through its interactive characteristics, elicit more critical self-evaluations. Prevention efforts should focus on parents’ role in reducing risky sex-related online behaviors.
- online sexual behavior
- parenting strategies
- social networking site
- Accepted September 25, 2014.
- Copyright © 2014 by the American Academy of Pediatrics