Adolescents’ online sexual experiences (e.g., pornography use, sexual chatting, sexualized social media use, and nude image exchange) provide a new context for sexual socialization. Traditionally, online sexual experiences are often aggregated averages, which neglect their complexity and fail to identify individual differences in the experience. Moreover, the lack of longitudinal research in this area has failed to determine if these experiences predict later offline sexual health and violence outcomes. An analysis of two waves of surveys completed by ethnically and socioeconomically diverse female adolescents (N = 296; 49% maltreated; aged 14–16 years) participating in a larger cross-sequential study was conducted to address these gaps. Established latent classes from the prerequisite study of online sexual experiences at Time 1 were Online Abstinent (low probability of any online sexual experiences), Online Inclusive (high probability of all online sexual experiences), Attractors (high probability of attracting attention from others), and Seekers (high probability of seeking out sexual content and interaction). Class membership uniquely predicted HIV risk, number of physically violent romantic partners, and the occurrence of sexual assault at Time 2. Although membership in risker online sexual experience classes predicted later offline risk and victimization, this was especially true for maltreated participants. These findings demonstrate the advantages of examining online sexual experiences in a way that emphasizes their complexity and individual differences in influential susceptibility.
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We would like to thank Emily Schulz and Kyla Cary as well as Drs. Christine Gidycz and Heather McCauley for reading prior drafts of this manuscript.
This work was supported by grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse [T32 DA017629-06A1 and P50 DA039838] awarded to the Methodology Center at Penn State as well as [L40 DA044702 and F31 DA039603] to the lead author, Megan K. Maas. This work was also supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [P50HD089922 and R01HD073130] awarded to coauthor, Jennie G. Noll. The data used in this manuscript came from a parent study that was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [R01 HD052533] awarded to Jennie G. Noll. The interpretations of the results and views expressed by the authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the National Institutes of Health.
M.K.M. conceived the current sub-study, participated in its design and statistical analytic plan, performed the statistical analyses, interpreted the data, and drafted the manuscript. B.C.B. participated in the statistical analytic plan, interpretation of the data, and contributed to editing of the manuscript. J.G.N. participated in the design and coordination of the parent study as its principle investigator. J.G.N. secured NIH funding, conducted data collection and processing, participated in the current sub-study’s design, and contributed to editing of the manuscript. All authors have given final approval of the version to be published.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
This work was approved by the Institutional Review Boards at Cincinnati Children’s hospital and the Pennsylvania State University.
Caregivers were enrolled to provide consent for adolescents and to report on adolescent behavior. Adolescents provided assent and completed paper and pencil questionnaires, a laboratory experiment, semi-structured guided interviews, and computer administered questionnaires regarding sensitive content including sexual activities to maximize anonymity.
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Data Sharing Declaration This manuscript’s data will not be deposited.
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Maas, M.K., Bray, B.C. & Noll, J.G. Online Sexual Experiences Predict Subsequent Sexual Health and Victimization Outcomes Among Female Adolescents: A Latent Class Analysis. J Youth Adolescence 48, 837–849 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-019-00995-3
- Sexual violence
- Social media