- Excessive social media use can lead to risky sexual behavior and increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Social media can negatively impact sexual function and satisfaction, affecting both men and women.
- Social media influencers may unintentionally spread sexual health misinformation, particularly regarding contraception.
- Online social support communities can provide a safe space for sexual health discussions, especially for sexual and gender minority (SGM) groups.
- Excessive social media use can harm mental health, which is closely linked to sexual well-being.
- Responsible social media use involves evaluating sources, setting time limits, applying critical thinking, and having open conversations about sexual health with partners and healthcare providers.
From staying connected with friends and family to accessing news and entertainment, it’s hard to imagine a world without the constant scroll of social platforms. However, have you ever stopped to consider the impact of social media on your sexual health?
The Connection Between Social Media and Sexual Health
Adolescents and adults are spending more time on social media than ever before. A recent report showed that people tap away on their devices an average of 2,617 times each day. This increase in screen time can have far-reaching effects on various aspects of our lives, including our sexual health.
Social Media and Risky Sexual Behavior
Recent research suggests a connection between social media and risky sexual behavior among adolescents and young adults.
A study focused on Latino youth in Maryland revealed that over time, sexual risk behaviors tend to increase among teenagers who actively engage with social media. Participants who sent more than 100 text messages per day exhibited significantly higher sexual risk scores.
Another study, conducted in Taiwan, found that exposure to sexually explicit media during early adolescence was linked to risky sexual behavior in emerging adulthood. About 50 percent of participants had been exposed to sexual media content by eighth grade. This exposure predicted early sexual debut, engaging in unsafe sex, and having multiple sexual partners in later years.
The risks of social media-related sexual behavior may be just as relevant for older adults as “the digital generation” ages and more older people become tech proficient than ever before — in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social Media and STIs
Research supports the idea that social media consumption plays a complicated role in increasing risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
A study focused on found that spending three or more hours daily on Facebook was associated with risky sexual behaviors linked to STI risk. These behaviors included having sex without a condom and pursuing “hookups” through Facebook and other social channels. The researchers noted that men were more likely than women to pursue hookups through the platform, and women were less likely to report having sex without a condom.
Another study explored the connection between specific social media platform usage and the rise of STIs in certain states. States with more users of certain dating apps like Match.com, OKCupid, and Down Dating had a higher number of reported STI cases. Conversely, states with more users of platforms such as Our Time, Ashley Madison, Facebook, and Grindr had fewer cases of STIs.
These mixed results suggest that while social media can facilitate exposure to STIs, it may also attract users who are cautious about their sexual health or less interested in risky sexual encounters. This underscores the complexity of the relationship between social media use, personal risk factors, and sexual health.
The Connections Between Social Media, Sexual Dysfunction, and Sexual Satisfaction
Recent research has explored the intriguing link between social media use and both sexual dysfunction and sexual satisfaction among adults. Findings shed light on how our online behaviors can influence our offline desires and relationships.
Social Media and Sexual Dysfunction
You may have heard that porn addiction can contribute to erectile dysfunction and similar difficulties in men. But excessive use of social media, especially on social networking sites, has also been linked to sexual dysfunction in both men and women. In fact, researchers recently set out to determine if and how sexual difficulties were related to addictive-like use of social media sites and smartphones.
Results showed that women with addictive-like social networking behaviors reported:
- Lower sexual arousal
- Lubrication difficulties
- More significant sexual distress
Men with addictive-like social networking behaviors experienced similar issues, such as:
- Lower erectile function
- Reduced sexual desire
- Dissatisfaction with their sex lives
Smartphone use had a weaker impact on sexual difficulties overall.
How Social Media Influences Sexual Satisfaction
Social media use, particularly on platforms like Instagram, can negatively impact sexual and relationship satisfaction in adults. For example, a recent study looked at the relationship between Instagram use and relationship satisfaction. Results showed that excessive use was associated with lower relationship satisfaction and increased conflicts.
There are several factors that may contribute to this, including:
- Communication challenges. Social media interactions may replace meaningful conversations and hinder open discussions about sexual concerns with partners.
- Comparison to others. Constant comparisons fueled by social media may lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing, particularly among women, affecting self-esteem and body image, which are essential for sexual satisfaction.
- Jealousy and infidelity. Social media’s potential for facilitating infidelity can erode trust and intimacy in relationships, further harming sexual satisfaction.
The Negative Impact of Social Media on Sexual Health
Social media can inadvertently lead to negative consequences for sexual health. It can influence sexual behavior, sexual function, and sexual satisfaction through a variety of means. Specifically, excess social media use exposes you to misinformation, peer pressure, and adverse mental health outcomes that ultimately affect your sexual health.
Social Media Influencers and Sexual Health Misinformation
Social media has become a primary source of sexual health information, particularly among young adults, but it also facilitates the rapid spread of sexual health misinformation. This misinformation can be especially concerning when it comes to topics like contraception and HPV vaccination.
Recent research highlights the significant influence of social media influencers with large followings who may unintentionally spread misinformation to their audiences. Many of these influencers discuss hormonal birth control and its discontinuation in their content, often failing to mention alternatives. This can inadvertently discourage the use of highly effective birth control methods and neglect promoting other forms of protection.
Some influencers may even intentionally mislead their audiences for profit by helping to market so-called “natural” male or female sexual enhancement products. While social media can be a convenient way to access information, it’s crucial to ensure the accuracy of the content you consume.
Peer Pressure and Unrealistic Expectations
While social media offers benefits like promoting healthy lifestyles, it can also become an escape from real-life stressors, deterring adults from confronting their issues directly. These platforms also actively foster peer pressure and often portray unrealistic representations of sex and intimacy for both adolescents and adults.
This makes social media a major player in issues like poor body image, anxiety around sex, and a variety of existing relationship challenges.
Social media can be harmful to mental health, which is intimately connected to sexual function.
Research has shown that individuals who spend excessive time on social media platforms are more likely to experience negative self-perception, anxiety, and depression. These mental health issues can significantly hinder sexual desire and performance, creating a cascading effect on overall sexual well-being.
However, research also shows that even a small reduction in screen time, just 15 minutes a day, can improve mental health and overall well-being. This suggests that the negative effects of social media on your sex life may be reversible.
The Positive Impact of Social Media on Sexual Health
While social media presents challenges, it also offers some positive aspects for sexual health.
Awareness and Education
Social media can be a valuable platform for sexual health education and awareness campaigns. It’s a convenient way to reach a broad audience and provide valuable information about new methods to prevent and treat STIs. In fact, several studies have shown the positive impact of social media on sexual health.
For example, one study found that exposure to a Facebook page dedicated to youth health information significantly increased condom use and the frequency of protection during sex among participants.
Similarly, STI testing campaigns promoted through social media have been linked to a significant uptick in STI tests, despite some instances of increased STI rates. These findings underscore the potential of social media to foster positive sexual health behaviors among adults.
Online Social Support Communities
Many people use online social support communities to address sexual health issues, seek guidance, and share their experiences with others. These communities can offer a safe and inclusive space for people who find it challenging to access support for their sexuality or sexual health in person.
Online social support communities can be valuable for anyone, but they may be especially helpful for sexual and gender minority (SGM) groups.
A study focusing on rural SGM youth highlighted how these platforms provide essential emotional and informational support. The results indicated that SGM youth in rural areas are at higher risk of social isolation, a known factor contributing to mental health problems. For them, social media-based support communities have become an outlet to connect with like-minded individuals, explore their identities, and access critical resources and care that may be lacking in their offline lives.
Another study explored the connection between online support groups, mental health stigma, and help-seeking behaviors among Japanese adults. While this study didn’t specifically address sexual health, it demonstrated the potential benefits of online support communities for supporting mental health in adults.
The study found that participants who used these platforms showed a willingness to seek help from various sources, such as doctors and psychologists, for mental health concerns.
Tips for Responsible Social Media Use
Take steps to ensure that social media enhances rather than compromises your sexual health. Your sexual health is worth it.
Tips for responsible social media use include:
- Evaluate sources. Be discerning about the sources of sexual health information you trust on social media. Seek information from reputable sources, such as government agencies or healthcare organizations.
- Set time limits. Set boundaries for your social media use by avoiding excessive screen time. This can help reduce the negative effects on your mental health and overall well-being.
- Apply critical thinking skills. Approach information with a critical mindset. Don’t take everything you see on social media at face value. Verify facts and consult medical professionals when in doubt.
- Have open conversations. Practice holding open conversations about sexual health with your partner(s) and your provider. This can help to reduce the influence of social media and peer pressure on your sexual health and sexual satisfaction.
- Use trusted providers and retailers. Only only use trusted providers and retailers when seeking healthcare or ordering products like Viagra online.
Better Sexual Health with eDrugstore
Social media can be a valuable tool for connecting to resources that support your sexual health, but it’s essential to be aware of its potential negative impact on your sex life.
At eDrugstore, we provide you with the resources you need to stay informed and connect with the best resources to support your overall health and well-being. We offer safe and effective solutions to treat erectile dysfunction and more.
Take advantage of our free consultations with U.S.-licensed physicians to find the right sexual health solutions for your needs.
Shelby is a public health professional with research and field experience in sexual and reproductive health. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).