Sex-related online behaviors and adolescents' body and sexual self-perceptions (2014)

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Pediatrics. 2014 Dec;134(6):1103-10. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-0592. Epub 2014 Nov 17.

Doornwaard SM1, Bickham DS2, Rich M2, Vanwesenbeeck I3, van den Eijnden RJ3, ter Bogt TF3.

Abstract

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.

KEYWORDS:

Internet; adolescence; development; online sexual behavior; parenting strategies; self-perceptions; social networking site