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Longitudinal Study Links Porn Consumption to Sexual Victimization Among Teen Girls

By July 23, 2019 No Comments

There's a vast amount of research on the harmful effects of pornography, and it's important that this information is accessible to the public. Weekly, we highlight a research study that sheds light on the expanding field of academic resources that showcase porn's harms. These studies cover a wide range of topics, from the sociological implications of pornography to the neurological effects of porn-consumption.

The full study can be accessed here.

Online Sexual Experiences Predict Subsequent Sexual Health and Victimization Outcomes Among Female Adolescents: A Latent Class Analysis

Authors: Megan K. Maas, Bethany C. Bray, and Jennie G. Noll
Published: Feb 18, 2019

Peer-Reviewed Journal: Journal of Youth and Adolescence

Background

Recent reports indicate that adolescents are spending less time engaging with traditional media (e.g., TV, magazines, books) and more than 6 hours a day with online media (e.g., social media, apps, websites; Twenge et al. 2018), providing a relatively new context for development. However, the implications of the online context for sexual development remain largely unknown due to the lack of longitudinal research in this area. Importantly, previous research has documented that childhood maltreatment (e.g., sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect) is an early adverse exposure that shapes the sexual development of adolescents (Barnes et al. 2009; Wilson and Widom 2011).

In particular, many maltreated adolescents have emotional or cognitive deficits that may make them more vulnerable during online sexual experiences (Noll et al. 2013). The current research aims to understand how the online context influences adolescent sexual development by examining specific patterns of online sexual experiences and the kinds of sexual health and victimization outcomes those patterns predict over time. Results from the present analysis may guide health professionals and intervention developers in tailoring prevention strategies to meet the diverse needs of female adolescents as they move through this critical developmental stage.

The online context facilitates sexual experiences such as viewing internet pornography, exchanging nude images, chatting about sex, and posting provocative pictures on social media. Although adolescence is a time of sexual exploration, teens’ online sexual experiences have garnered fear in the public arena. For example, one of the fastest growing bodies of research over the last two decades is that which focuses on the impact of internet pornography use on sexual behavior during adolescence (Peter and Valkenburg 2016). Much of the findings suggest that pornography use among adolescents and emerging adults is linked with outcomes such as having had more unprotected penetrative and oral sex partners of all types, more frequent casual sex, and earlier onset of sexual activity (Peter and Valkenburg 2016).

Pornography use among female adolescents and emerging adults specifically, has been linked with outcomes such as a higher likelihood of engaging in sex at a younger age, a higher number of sex partners, and a lower likelihood of using contraception (Maas and Dewey 2018; Peter and Valkenburg 2016). These findings suggest that pornography use is a correlate of risky sexual behavior, yet the majority of previous studies have been cross-sectional, warranting longitudinal research to establish directionality in these associations.

A central developmental task during the transition to adulthood is the attainment of healthy romantic relationships (Conger et al. 2000). However, many adolescent romantic relationships are characterized as tumultuous (Halpern-Meekin et al. 2013). Recent nationally representative data show that 1 in 7 female adolescents experience physical dating violence victimization, whereas 1 in 19 male adolescents do (Kann et al. 2016). Emerging research has documented the role that technology plays in facilitating physical and sexual violence.

Specifically, 25–56% of female adolescents report experiencing non-physical violence facilitated by mobile or online technology (Stonard et al. 2014; Zweig et al. 2013). This type of abuse has been characterized as having a partner who has threatened and harassed via text message, written disparaging comments on their social media pages, used their social media account without their permission, or tracked their location via GPS (Stonard et al. 2014; Zweig et al. 2013). Moreover, adolescents experiencing sexual violence in offline romantic relationships also report technology-facilitated violence.

Among college women, engaging in sexting is associated with having had experienced sexual assault, particularly while also using alcohol (Dir et al. 2018). Collectively, these findings underscore the need to better understand the links between online sexual experiences and offline experiences of sexual and relationship violence. Understanding these patterns may bolster sexual assault prevention programs for adolescents and emerging adults by making them more relevant and engaging.

Although the fields of gender-based violence and sexual health often operate as separate entities, more scholars are calling for their integration due to several shared risk and protective factors (Schneider and Hirsch 2018). In accordance with this call for integration and given the nuance of the latent class structure of female adolescent online sexual experiences (Maas et al. 2018), the aim of the current analysis was to identify which online sexual experience profiles would differentially predict sexual assault and relationship violence. Identification of such pathways not only informs healthy relationships and sexual health programming, but also the integration and tailoring of the two.

Methods

Recent reports indicate that adolescents are spending less time engaging with traditional media (e.g., TV, magazines, books) and more than 6 hours a day with online media (e.g., social media, apps, websites; Twenge et al. 2018), providing a relatively new context for development. However, the implications of the online context for sexual development remain largely unknown due to the lack of longitudinal research in this area.

Importantly, previous research has documented that childhood maltreatment (e.g., sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect) is an early adverse exposure that shapes the sexual development of adolescents (Barnes et al. 2009; Wilson and Widom 2011). In particular, many maltreated adolescents have emotional or cognitive deficits that may make them more vulnerable during online sexual experiences (Noll et al. 2013). The current research aims to understand how the online context influences adolescent sexual development by examining specific patterns of online sexual experiences and the kinds of sexual health and victimization outcomes those patterns predict over time. Results from the present analysis may guide health professionals and intervention developers in tailoring prevention strategies to meet the diverse needs of female adolescents as they move through this critical developmental stage.

The online context facilitates sexual experiences such as viewing internet pornography, exchanging nude images, chatting about sex, and posting provocative pictures on social media. Although adolescence is a time of sexual exploration, teens’ online sexual experiences have garnered fear in the public arena. For example, one of the fastest-growing bodies of research over the last two decades is that which focuses on the impact of internet pornography use on sexual behavior during adolescence (Peter and Valkenburg 2016).

Much of the findings suggest that pornography use among adolescents and emerging adults is linked with outcomes such as having had more unprotected penetrative and oral sex partners of all types, more frequent casual sex, and earlier onset of sexual activity (Peter and Valkenburg 2016). Pornography use among female adolescents and emerging adults specifically, has been linked with outcomes such as a higher likelihood of engaging in sex at a younger age, a higher number of sex partners, and a lower likelihood of using contraception (Maas and Dewey 2018; Peter and Valkenburg 2016). These findings suggest that pornography use is a correlate of risky sexual behavior, yet the majority of previous studies have been cross-sectional, warranting longitudinal research to establish directionality in these associations.

A central developmental task during the transition to adulthood is the attainment of healthy romantic relationships (Conger et al. 2000). However, many adolescent romantic relationships are characterized as tumultuous (Halpern-Meekin et al. 2013). Recent nationally representative data show that 1 in 7 female adolescents experience physical dating violence victimization, whereas 1 in 19 male adolescents do (Kann et al. 2016). Emerging research has documented the role that technology plays in facilitating physical and sexual violence. Specifically, 25–56% of female adolescents report experiencing non-physical violence facilitated by mobile or online technology (Stonard et al. 2014; Zweig et al. 2013). This type of abuse has been characterized as having a partner who has threatened and harassed via text message, written disparaging comments on their social media pages, used their social media account without their permission, or tracked their location via GPS (Stonard et al. 2014; Zweig et al. 2013). Moreover, adolescents experiencing sexual violence in offline romantic relationships also report technology-facilitated violence.

Among college women, engaging in sexting is associated with having had experienced sexual assault, particularly while also using alcohol (Dir et al. 2018). Collectively, these findings underscore the need to better understand the links between online sexual experiences and offline experiences of sexual and relationship violence. Understanding these patterns may bolster sexual assault prevention programs for adolescents and emerging adults by making them more relevant and engaging.

Although the fields of gender-based violence and sexual health often operate as separate entities, more scholars are calling for their integration due to several shared risk and protective factors (Schneider and Hirsch 2018). In accordance with this call for integration and given the nuance of the latent class structure of female adolescent online sexual experiences (Maas et al. 2018), the aim of the current analysis was to identify which online sexual experience profiles would differentially predict sexual assault and relationship violence. Identification of such pathways not only informs healthy relationships and sexual health programming, but also the integration and tailoring of the two.

Results

Given the overwhelming increase in adolescents’ time spent online since the advent of the internet (Twenge et al. 2018), the aim of this study was to determine if patterns of online sexual experiences longitudinally predict odds of sexual assault, or number of physically violent dating partners among female adolescents. Unlike the majority of prior work that has investigated various online sexual experiences separately to determine their risk factors, the present analyses demonstrate the utility of latent class analysis for examining complex patterns of online sexual experiences that have differential risk and prevention implications. These findings suggest that online sexual experiences can be considered a dimension of sexual risk-taking among female teens, but the combinations of these experiences may matter more, especially for maltreated adolescents.

Building on the classes identified in the prior study with this same sample (Maas et al. 2018), the Online Inclusive class (those who had a high probability of engaging in all eight online sexual experiences) was more likely to experience sexual assault one year later as compared to the Attractors class (those who experienced the most sexual attention online). There was also a high probability of internet pornography use for Online Inclusive class members. The most frequented pornographic websites depict sex in a gender-stereotypical way without attention paid to commitment or contraception (McKee 2005). This socialization process could explain why several studies show that female adolescents and emerging adults who use pornography tend to have more sex partners, report trying to copy behaviors seen in pornography, are more likely to engage in anal sex compared to female adolescents who do not use pornography (Maas and Dewey 2018; Mattebo et al. 2016). Therefore, female adolescents may benefit from pornography education programming that promotes critical thinking skills, to mitigate influential effects from pornography viewing (see Rothman et al. 2018).

In the physical violence model, being a member of the Seekers class (those who intentionally sought out pornography and sex chatting), especially for participants who were maltreated, predicted having had more violent romantic partners one year later. The Seekers had a high probability of having used internet pornography, initiated a chat about sex online, had someone comment about how sexy they are on social media, and had someone request sexy/nude photos. Given that participants who were maltreated and members of the Seekers class were even more likely to have more violent partners, it is possible that maltreated Seekers have a history of volatile romantic relationships. Indeed, maltreated female adolescents are more likely to be revictimized in adolescence and adulthood than those who were not maltreated during their youth.

Considerable attention has been paid to describing adolescents’ online sexual experiences and identifying deleterious correlates with such experiences. However, a comprehensive understanding of the nature and longer-term effects of online sexual experiences has been limited due to the lack of person-oriented and longitudinal work in this area. The present analysis adds to the literature in several ways by examining how various patterns of online sexual experiences among female adolescents longitudinally predict sexual health and violence outcomes one year later. These findings suggest that the combinations of online sexual experiences matter for later sexual assault and relationship violence victimization. Moreover, for maltreated female adolescents, engaging in more online sexual experiences predicted a significantly higher likelihood of sexual victimization, suggesting that addressing online sexual experiences for re-victimization prevention is needed.

Uncovering the multidimensionality of online sexual experiences of adolescents is important insofar as many sexual behaviors during this period set a young person on a path that can have consequences that are life-long. Thus, sexuality education and internet safety programming should not only incorporate online sexual experiences into current curriculum, but also target specific individuals and their online sexual experience patterns to reduce sexual assault and relationship violence.

The full study can be accessed here.

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