Why do so many teens reveal the gross details of their unsafe sex lives online? Dr. Megan Moreno — assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — wondered the same thing and set out to understand why.

More than 90 percent of teens in the United States have access to the Internet, according to background information from the studies. About half of all teens who use the Internet also use social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook. MySpace boasts more than 200 million profiles, according to the studies, and about one-quarter of those belong to teens under 18. Moreno and her colleagues randomly selected 500 MySpace profiles from people who reported their age as 18. They collected the information during the summer of 2007.

They found that 54 percent of the profiles contained information on risky behaviors, with 24 percent referencing sexual behaviors, 41 percent referring to substance abuse and 14 percent posting violent information. Factors associated with a decreased risk of posting risky behaviors included displaying religious involvement or involvement with sports or hobbies.

For the second study, the researchers randomly selected 190 profiles of people between 18 and 20 who displayed risky behaviors, such as sexual information. Half were sent an e-mail from a physician that pointed out that the physician had noticed risky behavior on their profile and suggested changing the displayed information. The e-mail message also provided information on where to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

Almost 14 percent of those who got the e-mail deleted references to sexual behavior, compared with 5 percent of the others.

One must ask where the parents of these teens were during the inappropriate publication of intimate, risky, sexual details — especially since the behavior “correction” was so easy to do and so readily accepted.

Teenagers crave discipline and need belonging — and rebelling against authority is a natural part of their freeing process — but not stopping and thinking about the revelation of their sexual lives online can be just as dangerous as engaging in unsafe sex offline or in trying to get a good job a few years down the line with an employer that doesn’t want to read about any sexual indiscretions anywhere anytime.

23 Comments

  1. In this country it is called “bragging rights”.
    Facebook is one of the worst offenders for this – you get all the drunken party picture shots as well.
    I had to point out to my mow ADULT children that it might be a good idea to be a little more careful about what they put on there as it was easily searchable by prospective employers.
    Luckily I have open and honest relationships with my children – others are not so lucky – some do not even know how to operate their computers. I know one teenage boy who has passworded the family computer so that his parents cannot see what he accesses!
    On a related note – our beloved government is proposing to introduce sex clinics in all state schools ( 11/18 year olds) – this is the same government that bans condom advertising at sports events and in other public places. Talk about mixed messages.

  2. I’m so glad you’re keeping a Panopticonic eye on your kids, Nicola! They will always need your wisdom and you will always be smarter and wiser than them because you will have always lived through more than they have.
    It’s a sad thing when kids need to get online and brag about these sorts of things — there are so many better, more productive, avenues for ongoing expression.
    The UK is a fascinating place. So full of incongruities and contradictions!

  3. Luckily they accept my wisdom and the experiences behind it. It is a fine line to walk sometimes.
    I think there is almost a primeval/feral element to it – sex is about power to them – the more women you can conquer – the better man you are – almost stone age.
    What worries me more is the drunken exploits of young women – I do not get the point of getting so drunk you have unfulfilling grubby sex and then have to tell the whole world about it.
    It is a maddening place too – often very hypocritical – especially in their sexual attitudes.

  4. There has been a sea change when it comes to sex in the USA, Nicola. When I was younger, “sex” meant any intimate touching of private parts. Today, many young women only consider vaginal penetration “sex” — while oral copulation and anal insertion are merely “foreplay.”

  5. That line has moved over here too – one of the reasons for the high levels of sexually transmitted infections/diseases – anal insertion is seen as “safe” and no need for a condom – the same with oral sex.
    In my day we were so scared of pregnancy – we had very safe sex indeed.
    Now popping a couple of pills from over the counter at the chemist is almost preferable to asking/arguing with the bloke to wear a condom and “spoiling” the moment. All the other perils of unprotected sex are forgotten about.

  6. I remember when I was leaving home again for college, my mother told me the following:
    “…if you plan to get married tomorrow, choice is yours, so is the consequence…but if you ever plan to have a one night stand – at least try spending time with Amitabh Bachchan – at least the effort is worth putting and will be something you will be able to brag about for rest of your life…”
    She knew very well I won’t be able to reach him by any means even if for a one night stand –
    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000821/bio
    but setting a high expectation for a scandal worked…!

  7. Nicola —
    I am remorseful over the societal moving of the “sexual line” from “classic sexual relations” to these fuzzy, undefined, sexual activities that “do” and “do not” count toward bodily expression. You make a fascinating point that the lines changed due to fear and the lack of understanding about the transmission of sexual disease.
    When I was younger it was a big deal just to hold hands with a girl. Touching anything other than that required a long term commitment — even in your teens!

  8. I think I love your mother, Katha! She is so funny and wise and that makes her incredibly dangerous to those who are of a lesser moral and intellectual stature. Watch out!
    She gave you great advice while making a hard, and important, point! Bravo!

  9. It most certainly was – and after about six months you might get a kiss and be “going steady”.
    The relationship was built first, in steps, holding hands, going steady, saving up for the engagement ring, getting engaged, then saving up to get married and put a deposit down on a house ( and not getting married until you had that deposit) and in most cases not having sex before you got married.
    Nowadays it seems sex comes first and the relationship ( if any ) follows later.

  10. Thanks Gordon!
    Abhishek doesn’t count…he is still a kid – yet to be a “man” like his father…(…falling in love with ‘Rekha’ – watch ‘Silsila’if you don’t know her…one runs out of words to describe this woman still today, meeting a fatal accident in mid-80’s, going bankrupt in early 90s, coming back with a bang after that and still reigning…)!
    Now you know why my mother told that! 🙂