Project 2 - Sexualities and Diversities in Social Media

In her PhD research, Marijke Naezer investigates how Dutch adolescents from different backgrounds use social media in friendships and relationships. Experiences and opinions of adolescents are analyzed using qualitative research methods such as participant observation and focus group interviews.

In the past years, internet applications have been developed that offer possibilities for individual users to upload and exchange content and interact with each other. These applications are called “social media”(Kaplan & Haenlein 2010). Young people have embraced them and use the internet mainly for interpersonal communication (Valkenburg & Peter 2007). In 2011 80% of Dutch youth aged 9-16 had a social networking profile (Livingstone et al. 2011); Dutch adolescents use instant messaging for about six hours a week (Schouten et al. 2007). Children and adolescents keep up profile pages, are active on weblogs, chatrooms and forums. A digital space has arisen in which young people spend a lot of time.

Since sex and sexuality are very present on the internet, parents, policy makers, health workers and researchers are questioning the effects of the internet and social media on the sexual development of youth. The focus is mostly on the content of media messages and the possible (negative) effects of their consumption on the sexual development and sexual health of youth (e.g. Peter and Valkenburg 2009, 2011; Van den Heerik 2011). Less attention is given to the experiences, opinions and motivations of adolescents themselves, risking biased interpretations of online sexual experiences of adolescents by adults (Krebbekx 2011; Stern 2008).

This research project takes young people themselves as a starting point to analyze how they experience and enact sexuality in social media. Marijke Naezer explores the different sexual activities adolescents undertake via social media and how these relate to sexuality “in real life” (IRL). She analyses the meanings and values that are attached to these practices, and how boundaries of (in)acceptable behaviour are created, policed and contested in different online spaces.

The internet offers specific opportunities for identity construction and identity play (Buckingham, 2008). Various social media spaces (e.g. blogs, discussion forums, Facebook) and the way ‘prosumers’ interact in them, help to shape sexual, ethnic, gender and other identities (Palmgren 2010; van Doorn 2009; Kendall 2002; Bromseth 2006; Leurs et al 2011). The awareness, for instance, of the public (or private) and anonymous (or personal) character of these spaces has a large influence on the kinds of identities adolescents perform (Davis 2009, Boyd 2008; Kennedy 2006). This study investigsates how sexual and other identities are co-constructed online, and what their relationship is with offline identities (Kennedy 2006; Holloway and Valentine 2003; Karl 2007).

Another important issue related to sexual encounters on the internet, is the issue of safety (Holloway & Valentine 2003). Concerns about sexual risks on the internet primarily address two issues: (1) being a victim of unwanted online sexual solicitation and (2) actively engaging in risky sexual online behavior (Baumgartner et al. 2010; Livingstone 2006; Mitchell et al. 2001, 2007). Empirical studies on adolescents’ risky sexual online behavior are still scarce (Baumgartner et al. 2010). Furthermore, we know little about how adolescents themselves perceive of sexual risks. This research examines how youth from different backgrounds define (acceptable) risk and where they look for information and/or help in using social media with regard to sexual experience.

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