TUESDAY, Oct. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Teens with smartphones are
more likely to have sex and meet others online for sex than teens
without Internet access on their phones, according to a new
But it's not clear if the smartphone actually influences
teenagers' sexual activity, and at least one critic of the research
called it weak.
Still, the smartphone is "one of the tools that risk-taking
teens are going to use to take risks," said study co-author Eric
Rice, assistant professor at the School of Social Work at the
University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. And he thinks
there's "definitely a connection" between having the phones and
For the study, the researchers surveyed more than 1,800 high
school students aged 12 to 18 from Los Angeles public schools. Many
were from middle- and low-income families.
One-third of the students owned smartphones, such as iPhones and
Blackberries, that provide access to the Internet and software apps
in addition to text-messaging and camera capabilities that are
basic on many cell phones. Essentially they are mini-computers and
cell phones in one.
Forty-seven percent of these students said they were sexually
active, compared to 35 percent of those who didn't own
Seventeen percent of the smartphone users said they had had sex
with someone they met online, compared to 14 percent of kids
without smartphones, Rice said.
Although smartphones, like cell phones, let parents keep track
of their children, they also give kids private access to the
Internet, Rice said. "You can get online relatively unsupervised
and look for sex partners or have sex partners look for you," he
It's not clear, however, how kids might do that. The study
didn't ask about websites they visited.
The study also doesn't prove that smartphones and sexual
activity are connected, or look at whether being sexually active
might make kids more likely to use smartphones rather than the
other way around.
David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's
Crimes Against Children Research Center, questioned the
"Youth with smartphones could be having more sex for many reasons that have nothing to do with smartphones," he said. "I would be willing to bet that youth with cars are more likely to have sex too. This research is sure to be misinterpreted as an argument for limiting smartphone access."
As for the idea that finding sexual partners on the Internet can
be dangerous, Finkelhor said "there is no research I know of that
suggests that it is riskier to seek sexual partners on the Internet
than elsewhere. Bars and parties may be much riskier
It's possible that "the Internet and smartphones can even
improve quality of judgment," he said, perhaps through the
popularity and success of dating sites. The sites allow people to
learn many things about potential dates before they meet in
Rice, the study co-author, recommended that parents have
discussions with kids about online predators, sexually transmitted
diseases and birth control.
"I would urge parents not to panic but use this as a moment to think about having a dialogue," he said.
He also said that social-networking websites such as Facebook
represent logical places for sexual-health programs that target
The study is scheduled for release Tuesday at the American
Public Health Association's annual meeting in San Francisco.
Research and data presented at medical meetings are typically
considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical
For details about
teen sexual health, see the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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