"Not all technology use is necessarily harmful," the study's lead author, Laura Widman, told Reuters Health.
"Although prior research and media attention have focused on the risks of technology use – like sexting, we found that adolescents might also use electronic tools to communicate about ways they might promote their sexual health," she said.
Widman studies adolescent sexuality at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It's not all about risky behaviour. It might be another way that teens can have these conversations that can be a little bit awkward," she said.
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Consistent use of condoms
Widman and her colleagues studied 176 US high school juniors and seniors. Of the 64 who reported being sexually active, more than half admitted failing to consistently use condoms, the researchers wrote in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
Those numbers were in line with 2011 federal Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics. While 47% of US high school students reported having sex, 40 percent of those said they did not use a condom the last time.
In the current study, students who texted or used other private electronic technology to discuss either condoms or other forms of birth control were nearly four times as likely to use the prophylactics.
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The odds of consistently using condoms more than doubled among students who reported discussing pregnancy or sexual limits with technology, the study found, although that result could have been due to chance."The technology as an intermediary may alter behaviour," cyber-privacy expert Mark Rasch told Reuters Health.
"In this case, it seems to be altering it for the good," he said." It could also alter it for the bad." Rasch, who was not involved in the current study, has examined the dark side of digital communication as a former federal computer-crime prosecutor and now runs Rasch Technology and Cyberlaw.
More than nine million US adolescents a year are diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections, according to the CDC.
Research over the past 20 years shows that teenagers who communicate face to face with their sexual partners about condoms and other birth control are more likely to use condoms, Widman said.
Read: 'Sexting' common in young people
The American Academy of Paediatrics Committee on Adolescence recently called for high schools to dispense condoms along with providing sex education.
Widman called for more studies to explore a link between technology and teen condom use. "Using technology is another avenue young people have for communicating about difficult or potentially embarrassing topics, including sexual health," she said. "We need to understand this much better than we do now."
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