Researchers can predict if college freshman intend to become sexually active based solely on content they post to Facebook.
In a study to be published January in the Journal of Sex Research, the team led by assistant professor Megan Moreno from the University of Wisconsin–Madison found that sexual references and revealing photographs posted to Facebook by 18-year-old college freshmen were not associated with the students’ sexual experience. However, the sexual content was associated with an increased likelihood of initiating sexual activity.
“These findings suggest that the display of sexual references on Facebook is a developmental marker of the emergent adult as a sexual person,” the researchers wrote in their study.
Rather than providing insight into their actual sexual behavior, the researchers said that content posted to social networking sites like Facebook could be a way for the students to define their sexual identity as they emerge from adolescence. They noted prior studies have found that teenagers select and interact with media based partially on who they want to be as an adult.
“Just as adolescents’ offline sexual development progresses through predictable stages, their online sexual development may also be marked by certain online displays,” the researchers explained.
The study also suggests that using Facebook to target older adolescents with safe sex advertisements could be an effective strategy. The lapse of time between the display of sexual content on Facebook and the initiation of sexual activity “may represent a critical time period during which clinicians, health educators, or even Facebook itself could deliver targeted education or prevention messages,” according to Moreno and her colleagues.