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"Safe Behind My Screen": Adolescent Sexual Minority Males' Perceptions of Safety and Trustworthiness on Geosocial and Social Networking Apps

Kyle Jozsa, Ashley Kraus, Aaron K Korpak, Jeremy Birnholtz, David A Moskowitz, Kathryn Macapagal

Archives of Sexual Behavior

Dating and social media application ("app") use for sexual and romantic partner-seeking is increasingly ubiquitous among adolescent sexual minorities assigned male at birth (ASMM). Previous work suggests that ASMM use the Internet, including apps, for normative aspects of sexual identity exploration and development. However, there may be risks associated with their use of sexualized apps designed for adults and with sexual interaction with adult app users. Little is known about how they assess and mitigate risk or gauge the trustworthiness of potential partners on such apps. We recruited ASMM in the U.S. (N = 268; ages 15-18 years, mean age = 16.9) to complete an online survey with open- and closed-ended questions about their perceptions of safety and trustworthiness of others while using apps to find partners. Participants perceived various risks on apps (e.g., physical harm, being "catfished") but did not appear to have clear strategies for measuring or mitigating it. They often assessed trustworthiness by observing other users' behavior or profiles. Participants frequently described interacting with older app users as risky or untrustworthy. Sexual health risks were seldom mentioned and the legal risks of sexual interaction with adults were never mentioned. Although app use may meet some of ASMM's sexual development needs, they may lack the knowledge and skills to do so safely in sexualized online adult spaces. These findings suggest that sex education for sexual minority adolescents should address online sexual safety.

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