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Exploring Associations Between Exposure to Sexy Online Self-Presentations and Adolescents’ Sexual Attitudes and Behavior

Abstract

Previous research suggests that adolescents’ social network site use is related to their sexual development. However, the associations between adolescents’ exposure to sexy self-presentations of others on social network sites and their sexual attitudes and experience have not yet been empirically supported. This study investigated reciprocal longitudinal relationships between adolescents’ exposure to others’ sexy self-presentations on social network sites and their sexual attitudes (i.e., sexual objectification of girls and instrumental attitudes towards sex) and sexual experience. We further tested whether these associations depended on adolescents’ age and gender. Results from a representative two-wave panel study among 1,636 Dutch adolescents (aged 13–17, 51.5 % female) showed that exposure to sexy online self-presentations of others predicted changes in adolescents’ experience with oral sex and intercourse 6 months later, but did not influence their sexual attitudes. Adolescents’ instrumental attitudes towards sex, in turn, did predict their exposure to others’ sexy online self-presentations. Sexual objectification increased such exposure for younger adolescents, but decreased exposure for older adolescents. In addition, adolescents’ experience with genital touching as well as oral sex (only for adolescents aged 13–15) predicted their exposure to sexy self-presentations of others. These findings tentatively suggest that the influence on adolescents’ sexual attitudes previously found for sexual media content may not hold for sexy self-presentations on social network sites. However, exposure to sexy self-presentations on social network sites is motivated by adolescents’ sexual attitudes and behavior, especially among young adolescents.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by a Vidi grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research [NWO] to the second author.

Author contributions

JvO developed the questionnaire, conducted the analyses and wrote the manuscript. JP developed the questionnaire, initiated and coordinated the design and data-collection of the study, co-interpreted the data analyses, and provided feedback and advise on the manuscript. IB developed the questionnaire and was part of the data-collection procedure. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Johanna M. F. van Oosten.

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van Oosten, J.M.F., Peter, J. & Boot, I. Exploring Associations Between Exposure to Sexy Online Self-Presentations and Adolescents’ Sexual Attitudes and Behavior. J Youth Adolescence 44, 1078–1091 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0194-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0194-8

Keywords

  • Adolescence
  • Teenagers
  • Media effects
  • Social media
  • Social network sites