Recent research suggests that adolescent boys who are cyber bullied pursue risky sexual behaviors more frequently than girls who are cyber bullied. Results may reflect a culture of toxic masculinity and highlight the need to pay special attention to male victims, who may be reluctant to self-identify, and therefore, at greater risk of negative health outcomes.
By Youn Kyoung Kim
Peer victimization among adolescents – such as school bullying, cyber bullying, physical dating violence, and sexual dating violence – are major public concerns in educational settings in the United States (US) and globally. In peer victimization, people become the targets of repeated physical, verbal, or psychological bullying by one or more of their peers, who intend to cause them harm.
A collaboration of researchers at Louisiana State University, University of Missouri, and University of Tennessee found that peer victimization is associated with adverse psychological and behavioral problems, including depression and risky health behaviors such as substance use and unprotected sex with multiple partners. In 2015, approximately one-third of high school students in the US reported having sex recently. Of these, 43% had not used a condom, 21% had drunk alcohol or used drugs before sexual intercourse, and 14% had not used any contraception.
However, little research has examined how different types of peer victimization lead to psychological harm and risky sexual behaviors, and whether the patterns are the same for males and females. A recent study, published in the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, examined gender differences in the relationships between four types of peer victimization (school bullying, cyber bullying, physical dating violence, and sexual dating violence), depression, and risky sexual behaviors among US high school students.
The researchers analyzed the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior System Survey, a nationally representative survey of US high school students containing data from 5,288 individuals who reported having engaged in sexual intercourse. The results show that all types of peer victimization are related to symptoms of depression for both females and males, and physical and sexual dating violence are associated with increased risky sexual behaviors. However, school bullying does not predict risky sexual behaviors. Among males, cyber bullying predicts increased risky sexual behaviors and the relationship is greater when a boy is depressed.
Theories of masculinity, and the shame and stigma associated with male victimization in US culture, may provide some insight into why boys are uniquely at risk for negative outcomes when they are victims of cyber bullying. In general, the findings from this research highlight the importance of school counseling services and suggest that particular attention should be paid to male adolescents who are at risk of, or victims of, cyber bullying. It is critical to create safe and private spaces for boys to share their experiences. In addition, the researchers are hoping that schools will consider efforts to destigmatize victimization through peer mentorship and open communication.
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