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.