Power Jennifer, Moor Lily, Anderson Joel, Waling Andrea, James Alexandra, Shackleton Nicole, Farrell Anne-Maree, Agnew Elizabeth, Dowsett Gary W. (2022) Traversing TechSex: benefits and risks in digitally mediated sex and relationships. Sexual Health 19, 55-69.
Background: Digital technologies play a significant role in people’s sexual and intimate lives via smart phones, cameras, dating apps and social media. Although there is a large body of research on the potential risks posed by these technologies, research on benefits and pleasures is limited.
Methods: This study explored digital sexual practices, including perceptions of risks and benefits among a sample of Australian adults (n = 445). Data were collected in 2020 via an online survey. Descriptive and bivariate analyses were undertaken to identify significant relationships between demographic variables and the use of technologies in relation to perceived risks and benefits. The mean age of participants was 42 years, over half were women (58.5%) and identified as heterosexual (61.1%).
Results: Findings reveal that use of digital media was common in participants’ sex lives and relationships; 60.3% of participants had viewed pornography online, 34.9% had used dating apps, and 33.9% had sent sexual or naked self-images to another person. Over one in three reported positive outcomes from this: 38.2% felt emotionally connected to their partners due to online communication; 38.0% agreed that digital technologies facilitated closer connections; however, the majority of participants were aware of potential risks associated with online sexual engagement, particularly non-consensual exposure of their sexual or naked images, with women expressing greater concern.
Conclusions: Policy, legal and educational responses should be based on holistic understanding of digital sexual engagement, acknowledging the ways in which technologies can support sexual relationships while also building people’s knowledge and capacity to manage risks.