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Sexual Communication in the Digital Age

29 May 2021

Publication Date
29 April 2021

Original Abstract

Online sexual behaviors like sexting, viewing pornography online, and using the internet to start relationships are increasingly common among adolescents, yet research has struggled to keep pace. This study fills a gap in the sexual communication literature by examining the extent to which a sample of high school adolescents are discussing digital sexual topics with their parents and best friends compared to more traditional sexual topics (pregnancy, STDs, condoms, and abstinence). Participants were 226 U.S. high school students (M age = 16.25; 58% girls; 46% White, 25% Latino, 24% Black) who reported their digital sexual behavior and sexual communication in the past year. Rates of sexting, viewing pornography, and starting relationships online were high (89% had engaged in at least one of these behaviors; 35% engaged in all three behaviors); yet communication about these topics was generally low: only 7% of youth had discussed all three digital topics with their parents and 19% had discussed all three with their best friends. This is in contrast to nearly 50% of youth who discussed traditional topics with their parents and best friends. Patterns of communication and digital sexual behavior were similar by gender, with the exception of pornography: boys were more likely to view pornography and discuss it with friends than girls. Implications for adolescent development in the digital age are discussed.

Widman, L., Javidi, H., Maheux, A.J., Evans, R., Nesi, J. & Choukas-Bradley, S. (2021). Sexual Communication in the Digital Age: Adolescent Sexual Communication with Parents and Friends About Sexting, Pornography, and Starting Relationships Online. Sexuality & Culture. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-021-09866-1

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sexual communication, adolescent sexual development, sexting, pornography, digital media


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