Smartphones linked to sexual activity in teens: study

by Randy Dotinga, Healthday Reporter
Smartphones linked to sexual activity in teens: study
But whether one leads to the other isn't clear.

(HealthDay)—Teens with smartphones are more likely to have sex and meet others online for sex than teens without Internet access on their phones, according to a new study.

But it's not clear if the smartphone actually influences ' sexual activity, and at least one critic of the research called it weak.

Still, the smartphone is "one of the tools that risk-taking teens are going to use to take risks," said study co-author Eric Rice, assistant professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. And he thinks there's "definitely a connection" between having the phones and having sex.

For the study, the researchers surveyed more than 1,800 aged 12 to 18 from Los Angeles public schools. Many were from middle- and low-income families.

One-third of the students owned smartphones, such as iPhones and Blackberries, that provide access to the Internet and software apps in addition to text-messaging and camera capabilities that are basic on many cell phones. Essentially they are mini-computers and cell phones in one.

Forty-seven percent of these students said they were sexually active, compared to 35 percent of those who didn't own smartphones.

Seventeen percent of the smartphone users said they had had sex with someone they met online, compared to 14 percent of kids without smartphones, Rice said.

Although smartphones, like cell phones, let parents keep track of their children, they also give kids private access to the Internet, Rice said. "You can get online relatively unsupervised and look for sex partners or have sex partners look for you," he said.

It's not clear, however, how kids might do that. The study didn't ask about websites they visited.

The study also doesn't prove that smartphones and are connected, or look at whether being sexually active might make kids more likely to use smartphones rather than the other way around.

David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, questioned the findings.

"Youth with smartphones could be having more sex for many reasons that have nothing to do with smartphones," he said. "I would be willing to bet that youth with cars are more likely to have sex too. This research is sure to be misinterpreted as an argument for limiting access."

As for the idea that finding sexual partners on the Internet can be dangerous, Finkelhor said "there is no research I know of that suggests that it is riskier to seek sexual partners on the Internet than elsewhere. Bars and parties may be much riskier environments."

It's possible that "the Internet and smartphones can even improve quality of judgment," he said, perhaps through the popularity and success of dating sites. The sites allow people to learn many things about potential dates before they meet in person.

Rice, the study co-author, recommended that parents have discussions with kids about online predators, sexually transmitted diseases and birth control.

"I would urge parents not to panic but use this as a moment to think about having a dialogue," he said.

He also said that social-networking websites such as Facebook represent logical places for sexual-health programs that target teens.

The study is scheduled for release Tuesday at the American Public Health Association's annual meeting in San Francisco. Research and data presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information: For details about teen sexual health, see the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Related Stories

Challenging HIV through social networking

Dec 06, 2010

Tapping into young people's use of online social networks presents health agencies with a powerful opportunity to help control the rise in HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in homeless youth in Los Angeles. According ...

Recommended for you

Can YouTube save your life?

4 hours ago

Only a handful of CPR and basic life support (BLS) videos available on YouTube provide instructions which are consistent with recent health guidelines, according to a new study published in Emergency Medicine Australasia, the jo ...

Doctors frequently experience ethical dilemmas

5 hours ago

(HealthDay)—For physicians trying to balance various financial and time pressures, ethical dilemmas are common, according to an article published Aug. 7 in Medical Economics.

AMGA: Physician turnover still high in 2013

5 hours ago

(HealthDay)—For the second year running, physician turnover remains at the highest rate since 2005, according to a report published by the American Medical Group Association (AMGA).

Obese or overweight teens more likely to become smokers

6 hours ago

A study examining whether overweight or obese teens are at higher risk for substance abuse finds both good and bad news: weight status has no correlation with alcohol or marijuana use but is linked to regular ...

Taking preventive health care into community spaces

7 hours ago

A church. A city park. An office. These are not the typical settings for a medical checkup. But a new nationwide study by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research shows that providing health services in ...

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

WesD
not rated yet Oct 30, 2012
Not really rocket science, just look at beepers in the 90s. If you had a beeper that meant you be contacted away from home or more importantly that people actually wanted to contact you, "here's my pager number." Having the latest communication technology looks cool, not to mention gives more separation from parents watchful eyes, and are thus getting laid more. I doubt they are finding sexual partners on their smartphones anymore than I would have been able to on AOL.
verkle
1 / 5 (2) Oct 30, 2012
This is just my gut feeling, but I would venture to say that the kids' upbringing factors largely into whether they would give a smartphone to a young teenager who really doesn't need one, and also whether they would instill training into their children that premarital sex is bad. These 2 ideas go along with each other.

For me, I withhold the former and do the latter.

VendicarD
5 / 5 (1) Oct 31, 2012
If God didn't want teens to be sexually active, why did he make them sexually active?