Digital Romance research 2017

Digital Romance research 2017

Technology is central to young people’s relationships today. It’s part of how young people communicate, build intimacy, hang out, flirt and deal with post break up fall out.

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About this research project

Digital Romance  was led by Brook, the UK’s leading sexual health and wellbeing charity for under 25s, and NCA CEOP.  

The research took place between January and May 2017 and used a mixed methods approach, including an online survey, in-person focus groups and one to one interviews of over 2,000 young people aged between 14 and 25 (72% were 14-17 years old). 

What the report covers

It looks at how digital technology is used in young people’s sexual and romantic relationship practices, including:

  • - Flirting
  • - Sending nude or sexual images
  • - Communicating in relationships
  • - Control, pressure and abuse in relationships
  • - Breaking up and the post break-up period

Digital Romance Author, Dr Ester McGeeney, said:

“The research shows how central technology is to young people’s relationships today. It’s part of how young people communicate, build intimacy, hang out, argue, make up, break up and deal with the post break up fall out. For most young people though, technology hasn’t replaced face to face communication. Rather, it has diversified the ways that young people have relationships and communicate with others."

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The benefits of technology to relationships. Young people described many benefits to using technology in their love lives, including the opportunities it gave them to meet potential partners, to flirt, to enjoy intimacy, and to get to know someone away from the crowd.

Technology and the drama of relationships. Findings revealed that technology added to the ‘drama’ of young people’s relationships. For example, commenting on others’ appearance, interfering in others’ relationships and break-ups, as well as cheating and jealousy.

Issues of sexism and harmful gender norms. Young people’s responses showed there were issues of sexism and harmful gender norms, with clear differences between the experiences of young men and women. For example, girls were significantly more likely (36%) to have come under pressure to send nude photos of themselves than boys (11%) and to have experienced threats or verbal abuse from partners during a relationship (14% compared to 8% from boys). Girls  also reported having their appearance rated online, both positively and negatively, in much higher numbers than boys.

Experiences of LGBT young people. LGBT young people generally described more benefits to digital technology, but also said they experienced more online risks. For example, significantly more young people identifying as gay (9.9%) had met up with an online contact who was not who they said they were, compared to  young people identifying as straight (4.9%).

The post break-up period can be a high-risk time. 5% of young people reported that their ex sent a nude or semi nude image of themselves onto other people, and 28% reported that their ex or ex’s friends had sent them nasty messages online.

What young people want from parents and carers

In the report young people identified three key things parents and carers could do to support them:

  •  - Develop close bonds with their children to create open and trusting relationships
  • - Less threats and punishment
  •  - Have everyday conversations about relationships

Ask the Awkward

Talk little. Talk often. Ask The Awkward.

#AskTheAwkward is our response to the Digital Romance recommendations.

#AskTheAwkward is designed to help parents and carers to overcome some of the awkwardness they may feel when it comes to discussing online relationships and related topics with their child.

It consists of:

  • Three short films created in a social experiment style, with real parents and their children filmed to capture their reactions to a range of questions and topics relating to online relationships.
  •  A parent and carers introduction to Asking The Awkward
  •  A set of 9 help sheets with information and conversation starters for parents and carers
#AskTheAwkward page