Sexual awareness is an understudied phenomenon, despite its known effects on mental health. Little is known about the predictors of sexual awareness, including how early sexual debut and early engagement with online dating and hookup apps might impact the development of sexual mindfulness. Given the conceptual overlap between mindfulness and sexual awareness, this study tested a model that hypothesized that general mindfulness and early sexual and online dating debuts may be associated with mental health outcomes and sexual behavior through pathways involving sexual awareness (assertiveness, consciousness, appeal, and monitoring). A sample of 2,379 heterosexually active young adult women completed an online survey. Path models indicated that both early sexual debut (prior to age 15) and early online dating debut (prior to age 18) had significant, positive direct associations with anxiety and depression scores. Early online dating was also associated with condomless sex with casual male partners. However, both early sexual debut and early online dating debut were indirectly linked to greater sexual risk through greater appeal, and to lower sexual risk through sexual assertiveness. Additionally, greater monitoring contributed to more depression for those with an earlier sexual debut. These findings point to potential risks associated with early online dating. They also highlight benefits of studying sexual awareness as a multi-dimensional construct, especially as it helps to clarify divergent findings in the existing literature on the long-term consequences associated with early sexual debut. While some domains were associated with risk (monitoring and appeal), others were indicative of resilience (assertiveness).
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The authors acknowledge the efforts of the students who contributed to the execution of this study, including: Rashelle Ahokas, Laura Eltahawy, Zach Hubert, Megan Ludwig, and Vendela Parker
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Trub, L.R., Stewart, J.L., Lomidze, A. et al. Young Adult Women and Sexual Awareness in the Digital Age: Examining Pathways Linking Online Dating Debut and Mindfulness with Sexual and Mental Health. Arch Sex Behav 52, 2859–2877 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-023-02692-6