Do Teen Dating Partners Use Technology to Talk About Sexual Health?

A young person texting.

Safe Sext: Adolescents’ Use of Technology to Communicate About Sexual Health with Dating Partners,” Laura Widman, Jacqueline Nesi, Sophia Choukas-Bradley and Mitchell J. Prinstein. Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 54, Issue 5 (May 2014).

What it’s about: Widman and her research team analyzed data from 176 high school juniors and seniors to see if they use technology to talk to their partners about sexual health. Participants, who were already enrolled in an ongoing study about adolescent health risks, completed a questionnaire asking if they used “private” technology like texting, Snapchat or private Facebook messaging to talk about topics like birth control, pregnancy risk and sexually transmitted infections. Sexually active students also shared whether or not they had consistently used condoms during the past six months.

Why read it: Past research has explored how communication between teen dating partners may impact sexual behavior, but few studies have kept up with the different ways young people connect with each other. In addition, researchers that do focus on topics like “sexting” tend to focus on their risks rather than the ways they can be harnessed to promote sexual health. Understanding the impact of technology-based conversations on preventive actions like condom use can help family and youth workers think through new ways of encouraging dating partners to communicate.

Biggest takeaways from the research: Nearly half of participants said they used technology to discuss at least one sexual health topic with a dating partner, and nearly 20 percent said they used it to talk about all six topics listed on the questionnaire. The most commonly discussed topics were sexual limits and condom use, and the least-discussed item was HIV/AIDS.

Of the 64 students who reported having sex in the past six months, approximately half said they did not consistently use condoms. Participants who used technology to talk about condom use or birth control, however, were nearly three times more likely to use condoms consistentlly.

These results highlight the need for researchers to expand their view of communication to include face-to-face and technology-based conversations, Widman et al. say. Additional research is still needed, they add, to explore whether emerging tools simply provide new ways for teens to talk about sexual health concerns, or if they are more effective than in-person conversations.

Additional references: Look for more articles on technology and sexual health communication in NCFY’s research library. We’ve also explored ways adolescent pregnancy prevention campaigns use text messaging to answer young people’s questions about sex and their bodies.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, FYSB or the Administration for Children & Families.

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