The interplay between online and offline explorations of identity, relationships, and sex: a mixed-methods study with LGBT youth

J Sex Res. 2013;50(5):421-34. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2012.661489. Epub 2012 Apr 10.


Although the Internet is commonly used by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth to explore aspects of sexual health, little is known about how this usage relates to offline explorations and experiences. This study used a mixed-methods approach to investigate the interplay between online and offline explorations of multiple dimensions of sexual health, which include sexually transmitted infections, sexual identities, romantic relationships, and sexual behaviors. A diverse community sample of 32 LGBT youth (ages 16-24) completed semi-structured interviews, which were transcribed and then qualitatively coded to identify themes. Results indicated that, although many participants evaluated online sexual health resources with caution, they frequently used the Internet to compensate for perceived limitations in offline resources and relationships. Some participants turned to the Internet to find friends and romantic partners, citing the relative difficulty of establishing offline contact with LGBT peers. Further, participants perceived the Internet as an efficient way to discover offline LGBT events and services relevant to sexual health. These results suggest that LGBT youth are motivated to fill gaps in their offline sexual health resources (e.g., books and personal communications) with online information. The Internet is a setting that can be harnessed to provide support for the successful development of sexual health.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bisexuality / psychology
  • Female
  • Homosexuality, Female / psychology
  • Humans
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Sexuality / psychology*
  • Transgender Persons / psychology
  • Young Adult