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J Adolesc Health. 2014 Oct;55(4):535-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.04.002. Epub 2014 May 17.

Young adolescents' sexual and romantic reference displays on Facebook.

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Department of Interdisciplinary Social Science, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands. Electronic address:
Seattle Children's Research Institute, Seattle, Washington; Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.
Department of Interdisciplinary Social Science, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.



Social networking sites (SNSs) form increasingly popular venues for adolescents to express their developing identity, including their sexual self. This study investigated how and to what extent early and middle adolescents display sexuality and romance on SNSs and the demographic and psychosexual factors associated with their displays.


Dutch adolescents aged 11-18 years were recruited and Facebook friended. Participants' Facebook profiles were evaluated for sexual and romantic references and Facebook engagement. Participants completed a digital questionnaire measuring constructs related to romantic and sexual development. Analyses included chi-square and Student's t-tests.


A total of 104 adolescents (M(age) = 15.01, 68.3% female) were Facebook friended. Of 104 profiles, 25 (24.0%) contained 67 sexual references, and 27 (26.0%) contained 204 romantic references. Sexual references were mostly posted by others and referring to others or to no one in particular, whereas romantic references were predominantly posted by and referring to the profile owner. Displayers of sexual and romantic references were, compared with nondisplayers, older, more engaged in Facebook, more sexually experienced, and perceived more of their peers as approving of sex and as sexually active. In addition, sexual displayers were more likely boys and more sexually interested. There were no differences with respect to sexual intention and sexual attitudes.


A minority of young adolescents display sexual and romantic references on SNSs. References may reflect adolescents' offline sexual and romantic experiences. Yet, they may be powerful in creating behavioral norms; therefore, guidance on interpreting and displaying such messages should be promoted.


Adolescence; Content analysis; Facebook; Sexual behavior; Social networking sites

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