Featured Article: LCA to Understand Online and Offline Sexual Behavior

January 22, 2018:shutter

The Internet has changed the way that adolescents interact with pornography and with each other socially. In a recent article in Journal of Research on Adolescence, lead author Megan Maas of Michigan State University, Bethany Bray of The Methodology Center, and Jennie Noll of Penn State use latent class analysis (LCA) to examine the relationship between the online and offline sexual behavior of female adolescents.

Prior research has indicated that exposure to online pornography is associated with riskier sexual attitudes and behaviors (Peter & Valkenburg, 2016). In this study, the authors conducted an LCA of the online sexual experiences of 312 female adolescents from a Midwestern U. S. city. The authors discovered four classes of online behavior: Online Abstinent, Online Inclusive, Attractors, and Seekers. Members of the Online Abstinent class (52% of the sample) were unlikely to engage in any sexual behavior online. Members of the Online Inclusive class (19% of the sample) had a high probability of engaging in all sexual behaviors that were measured in the study. Members of the Attractors class (16% of the sample) had a low probability of visiting a pornographic site, having cybersex, chatting online about sex, or sexting but a high probability of posting a sexy profile picture on social media and attracting sexual attention. Members of the Seekers class (13% of the sample) had low probabilities of sexting or cybersex but high probabilities of visiting a pornographic site and a few other sexual behaviors.

After identifying the classes, the authors examined the correlation between class membership and previous sexual mistreatment, offline sexual history, and previous substance use. The authors found that members of the inclusive class were slightly more likely to have suffered previous sexual mistreatment. Offline sexual history and previous substance use were useful in predicting class membership. Lead author Megan Maas said, “LCA is such a useful tool for unpacking the nuance and multideminsionality of the behaviors we all study. I am excited for the follow-up paper to come out. It used these identified classes to predict sexual assault, teen dating violence, and HIV-risk behaviors and experiences one year later. I hope that sex education will do more to address online sexual experiences and their role in offline sexual behavior to remain relevant for today’s digital natives.”


Maas, M. K., Bray, B. C., & Noll, J. G. (2017). A latent class analysis of online sexual experiences and offline sexual behaviors among female adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence. http://doi.org/10.1111/jora.12364

Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Adolescents and pornography: A review of 20 years of research. Journal of Sex Research, 53, 509–531. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2016.1143441

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