Assessing Causality in the Relationship between Adolescents’ Risky Sexual Online Behavior and their Perceptions of this Behavior
Baumgartner, S. E., Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (in press). Assessing Causality in the Relationship between Adolescents’ Risky Sexual Online Behavior and their Perceptions of this Behavior. Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
The main aim of this study was to investigate the causal nature of the relationship between adolescents’ risky sexual behavior on the internet and their perceptions of this behavior. Engagement in the following online behaviors was assessed: searching online for someone to talk about sex, searching online for someone to have sex, sending intimate photos or videos to someone online, and sending one’s telephone number and address to someone exclusively known online. The relationship between these behaviors and adolescents’ perceptions of peer involvement, personal invulnerability, and risks and benefits was investigated. A two-wave longitudinal study among a representative sample of 1,445 Dutch adolescents aged 12 to 17 was conducted (49% females). Autoregressive cross-lagged structural equation models revealed that perceived peer involvement, perceived vulnerability, and perceived risks were all significant predictors of risky sexual online behavior six months later. No reverse causal paths were found. When the relationships between perceptions and risky sexual online behavior were modeled simultaneously, only perceived peer involvement was a determinant of risky sexual online behavior. Findings highlight the importance of addressing peer involvement in future interventions to reduce adolescents’ risky sexual online behavior.