Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

University Students' Uses of and Reactions to Online Sexual Information and Entertainment: Links to Online and Offline Sexual Behaviour

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

University Students' Uses of and Reactions to Online Sexual Information and Entertainment: Links to Online and Offline Sexual Behaviour

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: This survey of 760 university students assessed their online sexual activities pertaining to dating, education and entertainment, the associations of these online activities with offline sexual behaviour, and their reactions to the sexually explicit material (SEM) they encountered online. Half of the respondents used the Internet to obtain sexual information and said they benefited from it. About 40% went online to meet new people, and to view SEM. Sexual entertainment activities were frequent both online and offline with more men than women engaging in them. A factor analysis identified four clusters of online and offline sexual activity: seeking partners; entertainment; sexual gratification; and in-person exploration. Masturbation while online was more common among those who reacted favourably to online SEM than those who reacted unfavourably. Those who found SEM disturbing or boring were less likely to have masturbated while online although whether or not respondents found online SEM arousing best distinguished between those who did or did not masturbate while online. The implications of the findings for sexual health education and future research are discussed

Key words: Sexuality Internet Sex Education Sexually explicit material Masturbation


Despite the widespread public use of the Internet for sexual information, entertainment, and other sex-related purposes, researchers have only recently begun to gather empirical data concerning online sexual activity (OSA). As defined by Cooper and Griffin-Shelley (2002), OSA refers to use of the Internet (including text, audio, graphic files) for any activity that involves sexuality for the purposes of recreation, entertainment, exploration, support, education, commerce and/or seeking out sexual or romantic partners. The term cybersex, which describes a sub-category of OSAs focusing on sexual gratification (Cooper & Griffin-Shelley, 2002), involves activities such as looking at pictures, participating in sexual chat, exchanging explicit sexual images or emails, sharing fantasies, and other such activities that may include masturbation while online either by oneself or with another or others. The recent advent of the web camera, allowing individuals to engage in live two-way audio-visual interactions, has increased the variety of sexual expression available on the Internet. To date, researchers have sought to gather information on the variety of OSAs (Cooper, Scherer, Boies, & Gordon, 1999; Greenfield, 1999), to categorize them (Cooper & Griffin-Shelley, 2002), and to determine how OSAs relate to offline sexual behaviour (Klausner, Wolf, Fischer-Ponce, Zolt, & Katz, 2000; McFarlane, Bull, & Rietmeijer, 2000). How Internet sexual behaviour fits into people's overall sexuality is largely unknown. The topic is thus ripe for speculation about the possible harm and benefits of different types of such involvement. The present study analyzes university students' experiences of and reactions to various OSAs and assesses the association of their online activities and offline behaviour. The literature review that follows provides background and context for this research.

Online Sexual Activities

In a survey of more than 9,000 MSNBC website users who had gone online at least once for sexual pursuits, Cooper, Scherer et al. (1999) found that the vast majority of respondents spent a small amount of time involved in what appeared to be mostly recreational OSAs (usually in the "cybersex category" described above). Although caution is warranted in extrapolating the findings of this self-selected sample, the. authors estimated that 17% of respondents showed signs of sexual compulsivity; and approximately 8% were labelled sexually compulsive. This interpretation was based on measures of propensity to engage in novel or risky sexual behaviours and on the amount of time individuals engaged in broadly defined behaviours such as "searching the Internet for sexually-related material" or "going online for sexual pursuits". …

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