Young people with smartphones are 1.5 times more likely to be sexually active than those without them, according to new research released today at the American Public Health Association’s 140th Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

Young people with smartphones are two times as likely to have been approached online for sex — and more than twice as likely to be sexually active with an Internet-met partner.

Researchers from University of Southern California found that, compared to young people who do not access the internet on their cell phones:

  • young people with smartphones are two times as likely to have been approached online for sex — and more than twice as likely to be sexually active with an Internet-met partner;
  • 5 percent of high school students used the internet to seek sex; and
  • non-heterosexual high school students were five times more likely to seek sex online — and more than four times as likely to have unprotected sex during their last intercourse with an online-met sex partner.

“We—parents, health educators, physicians—must recognize that cell phones are yet another new way for adolescents to meet sex partners,” said Hailey Winetrobe, MPH, CHES, researcher at USC and an APHA Annual Meeting presenter.

The authors used a 2011 sample of 1,839 Los Angeles public high school students aged 12-18. They controlled for independent factors including age, race, gender and sexual orientation.

Smartphones are now owned by roughly 50 percent of U.S. mobile phone subscribers, a 38 percent increase from 2011, according to Nielsen. Authors concluded that smartphone apps and social media channels can give visibility to adolescent-targeted sexual health programs, authors conclude.

“Parents and school health professionals should talk to their teens about being safe in meeting people online and in using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies,” Winetrobe said.