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Published on Authors of this article:. This digital change in romantic behaviors among youth has implications for public health and sexual health programs, but little is known about the ways in which young people use online spaces for sexual exploration. An examination of youth sexual health and relationships online and the implications for adolescent health programs has yet to be fully explored. Objective: Although studies have documented increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV among young people, many programs continue to neglect online spaces as avenues for understanding sexual exploration.

Little is known about the online sexual health practices adult flirting young people, including digital flirting and online dating. This study adult flirting the current behaviors and opinions of youth throughout online sexual exploration, relationship-building, and online dating, further providing insights into youth behavior for intervention opportunities.


Methods: From January through Decemberan exploratory study titled TECHsex used a mixed-methods approach to document information-seeking behaviors adult flirting sexual health building behaviors of youth online in the United States. Data from a national quantitative survey of youth and 12 adult flirting focus groups 66 youth were triangulated to understand the experiences and desires of young people as they navigate their sexual relationships through social media, online chatting, and online dating.

: Young people are using the internet to begin sexual relationships with others, including dating, online flirting, and hooking up. Despite the fact that dating sites have explicit rules against minor use, under 18 youth are using these products regardless in order to make friends and begin romantic relationships, albeit at a lower rate than their older peers Focus group respondents provided further context into online sexual exploration; many learned of sex through pornography, online dating profiles, or through flirting on social media.

Social media played an important role in vetting potential partners and beginning romantic relationships. Youth also reported using online dating and flirting despite fears of violence or catfishing, in which online profiles are used to deceive others. Conclusions: Youth are turning to online spaces to build sexual relationships, particularly in areas where access to peers is limited.

Although online dating site use is somewhat high, more youth turn to social adult flirting for online dating. These findings have implications for future sexual health programs interested in improving the sexual health outcomes of young people.

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Researchers may be neglecting to include social media as potential sources of youth hookup culture and dating. We implore researchers and organizations to consider the relationships young people have with technology in order to more strategically use these platforms to create successful and youth-centered programs to improve sexual health outcomes. Recent increases in personal technology ownership among youth [ 1 ] combined with the developmental stage of sexual exploration and identity development [ 2 ] have changed the way young people prefer to build relationships and undergo sexual exploration.

Websites and dating adult flirting are popular spaces in which to develop sexual relationships and locate sexual health information [ 3 - 4 ], experiment with sexual play [ 2 ], discover pornography, and begin dating [ 5 ]. studies have examined the role of online sexual exploration among adolescents as a time of identity construction and expression [ 6 - 7 ]; a decade ago, early chat rooms and social media platforms provided ideal ways for young people to connect and construct identities. However, due to constantly adult flirting online tools for social connection and dating, few studies have recently explored the new ways in which adolescents adult flirting and describe their online use for sexual exploration and relationship-building.


In addition, few studies have focused specifically on the use of online dating websites among youth younger than adult flirting years; instead, most studies have either focused on the victimization of minors online and the moral panics around youth sexuality and new media use or have relied on a monolithic description of youth that fails to consider developmental differences among ages in regard to sexual health research [ 8 ]. An exploration into the use of online dating and social media for sexual exploration among youth is timely considering the increased rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV among youth today [ 9 ].

As these trends continue to increase, it is vital for researchers and program developers to consider the unique interactions that young people have with sexual health and relationships online in order to adult flirting successful programs, particularly due to the rapidly changing landscape of online dating and social media platforms.

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Further, a historical failure to focus on minor youth younger than 18 years differences and relying on traditional approaches to understanding sexual and romantic behaviors of young people may be insufficient to fully capture the sexual health implications of online sexual adult flirting and relationship development. While adult flirting projects have found success bringing sexual health programs online [ 10 - 12 ], and recent studies have begun to incorporate a more complicated definition of youth [ 13 ], an examination of the unique relationships young people have with their sexual exploration and relationships online has yet to be fully explored.

In particular, few studies have focused on the amalgamation of online dating and social media [ 14 ] or the level of trust and adult flirting that youth have invested in online dating and flirting, particularly in the context of public health.

Exploratory studies are needed to remain up to date on youth trends and behaviors in order to locate opportunities for health interventions and future research. In response, the TECHsex national research project examined the online sexual exploration habits of young people in order to paint a broader picture of online sexual relationships, including online dating, trusted websites, age differences, behaviors, and online flirting. The implications of these data demonstrate that future programs should consider the varied experiences, levels of trust, age, and behaviors of youth prior to developing sexual health programs if they wish to yield greater health outcomes among young people.

In this exploratory study, we adult flirting a mixed-methods approach to capture a broad understanding of sexual exploration and relationships online among young people. The study received human protections approval from the Quorum Institutional Review Board. A national self-report survey, hosted on the online survey software Qualtrics, was conducted from September through July A total of youth ages 13 to 24 years average age Survey questions were determined by a comprehensive literature review of recent reports and articles on youth technology use, positive youth development [ 15 ], sexual exploration, and sexual health in the United States.

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The survey asked detailed demographic and behavioral questions on technology use, sexual behavior adult flirting, romantic relationship behavior online, and trust in dating and flirting online. Data reported here are a subset of our complete TECHsex report [ 16 ], which includes additional data on other youth technology trends. Data detailed here are self-reported responses to closed-ended survey questions.

We analyzed these data using descriptive statistics including cross-tabulations and frequencies.

Google for sexual relationships: mixed-methods study on digital flirting and online dating among adolescent youth and young adults

In addition to the online quantitative survey, semistructured qualitative focus groups were conducted to contextualize quantitative findings. Findings from the adult flirting survey directly influenced the creation of the semistructured interview guide for focus groups. Study sites were chosen for regional diversity and documented sexual health needs [ 17 - 18 ]. Focus groups lasted approximately 90 minutes. All participants were required to a consent form if minors, participants were required to have consent forms ed by parents or guardians.

Two focus groups per site were conducted and stratified by age, one adult flirting participants younger than 18 years and the other for those over 18 years.


Focus groups were audio recorded, transcribed, and de-identified for confidentiality purposes. Using a thematic analysis approach [ 19 ], the lead authors identified major themes across focus groups, including sexual health information online, online dating, and digital flirting. Using the Cohen kappa statistic, interrater reliability was established between two coders with an overall agreement percentage of Quotes from focus groups are included to contextualize quantitative data from the national survey.

Participants for the national survey were recruited via community partners with flyers and postcards, as well as through panel companies organizations that enroll interested users based on reported demographics and provide small incentives adult flirting survey completion. Focus group participants were recruited through community partners at each site using traditional methods of recruitment including flyers, postcards, and social media posts in youth-centric locations including school campuses, clinics, and public areas.

A sample of youth across the United States, ages 13 to 24 years average age A total of The race and ethnicity breakdown of the sample was The gender breakdown was Further information on employment adult flirting and education are reported in Table 1.


A total of 66 youth participated in the focus groups. Current perceptions of sexual exploration and online romantic relationship formation are complicated among youth. While online romantic relationships and dating were certainly present, youth across all ages held a pervasive fear of dating violence and cyber abuse; despite this fear, many used online dating sites as a place to find and begin romantic relationships. Participants often were forced to reconcile these warring feelings in order to continue exploring sexual relationships online and accessing online dating adult flirting.

For many younger adolescents younger than age 18 years using social media as an alternative space for online dating allows them to bypass feelings of fear due to the heightened level of trust in adult flirting platforms. The following focus on these two themes, including benefits and fear of technology for sexual exploration and relationships. Both themes are addressed below, supported by triangulated data from the national survey and regional focus groups.

Youth are forming romantic relationships online and using dating apps frequently. About Despite the fact that these dating sites have explicit rules against minor use, under 18 youth are using these products in order to make friends and adult flirting romantic relationships, albeit at a lower rate than their older peers Nearly In contrast, only This relatively popular use of online dating has implications for health interventions; some current sexual health education programs that use dating apps to recruit and disseminate information have shown initial promise, particularly with sexual and gender minority youth [ 16 ].

Within focus groups, online flirting was cited as the entry point for hookups and dating. Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat were cited as places where youth could find others who adult flirting similar interests and begin conversations with potential partners. Youth explained that they flirt online to start a conversation with someone they are interested in.

Usually youth flirt online with their extended network and can discover other people of interest by looking through the friend lists of people they already know, which could potentially lead to a sexual encounter.


Because digital flirting often takes place over social media and behind a screen, it also allows youth to more confidently approach someone. As one over 18 youth in Oakland, CA, reports, online dating is a way to find romantic partners anywhere. Although the majority of focus group participants had experience with digital flirting or had flirted with others online, online dating sites eg, Tinder or Grindr elicited a more mixed response, particularly among youth under In rare cases, some youth did believe that you could develop romantic and long-term relationships online.

However, reactions to online dating were typically negative and couched within general mistrust of using technology to meet someone. Adult flirting under 18 participant in Tunica, MS, shared fears of catfishing when using online dating. Despite the overall negative reaction to online dating, participants did adult flirting some positive experiences with online dating.

Some focus group participants were adamant about the positives of online dating, citing it as another place to potentially find the one.


Older focus group participants were very aware of some of the dangers but also understood that online dating works for some people and can result in happy relationships. Participants who identified within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender-spectrum LGBT community were more likely to think highly of online dating as a place to find like-minded peers. Most participants who decried online dating for fear adult flirting false information or threats to personal security reported similar online dating behaviors through social media flirting, where they often located potential partners and began romantic and sexual relationships with those they met online.

For these participants, the vetted experience of social media through connected peers eased the fear of potential violence, catfishing, or abuse. indicate that online spaces often serve as primary avenues to begin romantic adult flirting and foster sexual identities through online flirting and dating, regardless of minor or adult status.

By building these relationships online, young people are fully involved in the many facets of online sexual exploration including developing first sexual relationships and accessing online hookup culture.


For many, this is a positive experience, particularly for LGBT respondents and some rurally located participants who would otherwise not be able to connect with peers. For others, online dating was interpreted as dangerous and to be avoided, despite reporting the same online activities through social media to adult flirting romantic relationships.


Due to this fear, many young people have migrated to social media as a safer online dating option, possibly due to the increased familiarity and visibility of such platforms. This is particularly true for under 18 focus group adult flirting, who were adult flirting more likely to consider dating those they met through social media than online dating.

The nature of our nonrepresentative sample inhibits us from being able to generalize our findings to a larger youth population. However, the large sample size provides initial steps in understanding the way in which young people use and trust the internet and social media for romantic relationship-building and sexual exploration. In addition, because the quantitative survey was hosted online, it may be that some youth without access to personal internet-enabled devices were left out of the study.