A new study of Dutch teens finds that few of them frequently engage in risky online activity related to sex, such as sending naked photos to strangers and searching for sex partners, but those who do are more prone to have casual sex in real life.
"There seems to be a relationship between engagement in online and offline sexual risk behavior," said study author Susanne Baumgartner, a graduate student at the University of Amsterdam. "Adolescents who engaged in offline sexual risk behavior were also likely to engage in online sexual risk behavior."
The authors of the new study wanted to understand how "risky" sexual behavior online (talking with strangers about sex on the Internet, searching for someone to have sex with and sexting to strangers) is related to "risky" sexual behavior offline (having casual sex).
Baumgartner's team surveyed over 1,700 Dutch adolescents aged 12 to 18. Those at highest risk of risky behavior online "were less satisfied with their lives, had higher levels of sensation-seeking ... and were lower educated," the study authors found.
The researchers suggested that kids at higher risk deserve more attention in terms of preventing risky sexual activity.
Jeff Temple, a psychologist and an assistant professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch who studies teenage sexuality, said the study provides "more evidence that the boundary that separates offline and online lives is becoming increasingly blurred." Parents should pay attention, Temple noted, because if a teen is sexting, he or she may also be engaging in risky sexual activity in the real world.
The study appeared online Nov. 5 and in the December print issue of the journal Pediatrics.