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Teen Health

Smartphones Linked to Higher Rates of Teen Sex

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WebMD Health News

Oct. 30, 2012 -- A new study shows that many teens use the Internet to seek partners, and those that do are more likely to engage in unsafe sex.

“We wanted to know if the risk was real rather than just hype,” says researcher Eric Rice, PhD, a researcher with the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

The study analyzed data from a 2011 CDC survey conducted among more than 1,800 Los Angeles students ages 12 to 18. The survey asked questions about being approached online for sex, seeking sex partners online, having sex with online partners, using condoms with those partners, and about their use of technology, especially smartphones.

The study also shows that about a third of the students carried a smartphone with Internet access, and nearly half of those kids said they were sexually active. Among teens who did not use a smartphone, only a third reported having sex.

The study revealed that 5% of high school students used the Internet to seek sex partners; and almost 1 in 4 is approached online for sex. Those who were approached or sought sex partners online were significantly more likely to have sex with Internet-met partners.

“This is an intriguing and necessary study, and the statistics are concerning,” says Sophia Yen, MD, an adolescent medicine specialist at Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. “We need to educate young people to be wary and afraid of strangers they meet online. I’m not so concerned about 16-year-olds meeting other 16-year-olds, but I am very concerned about 16-year-olds meeting 40-year-olds.” 

Yen was not involved in the research.

Private Access

Rice offers one possible reason for the higher rates of sexual activity among smartphone users.

“It probably has something to do with having private access to the Internet on their phones,” he says. “On their home computers, parents often have much more control.”

That does not mean that Rice thinks parents should unduly restrict their kids’ access to their phones.

“I’m an advocate for conversation rather than control,” he says.

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