A new study by researchers at my alma mater, University of Southern California, found that young people with smart phones were 1.5 times more likely to be sexually active than those without. Results were presented at this week’s American Public Health Association annual conference. I’ve written before about the relationship between media and imagery and its particular impact on healthy human development, so I found this study particularly interesting.
The lynchpin is the internet access, obviously, since that’s where smart phones differ from regular cell phones. The key findings pulled from the study are:
- young people with smartphones are two times as likely to have been approached online for sex — and more than twice as likely to be sexually active with an Internet-met partner;
- 5 percent of high school students used the internet to seek sex; and
- non-heterosexual high school students were five times more likely to seek sex online — and more than four times as likely to have unprotected sex during their last intercourse with an online-met sex partner.
The odds of having unprotected sex with a casual and perhaps anonymous partner are of course the most troubling to public health professionals. It’s not surprising that non-heterosexual students were five times more likely to seek sex online than heterosexual teens, since those findings have been seen before and highlight the difficulty that many non-heterosexual students may have come out, the lack of social support they may feel, and the isolation that coming out may have brought on.
The researchers used a sample of 1,839 Los Angeles high school students between the ages of 12-18, and they controlled for age, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Since this is the first study to really explore this, I’d be really interested in follow-up studies looking at other markers of sexual behavior in teens in relation to these findings. I’m also fascinated by the fact that 5% of high school students used the internet to seek sex, and am really interested in seeing how that number changes as smart phones become ubiquitous even in high school.