Online Partner Seeking as a Social Practice: Findings to Develop the Fourth National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles

Reid, D. et al. (2021) Online Partner Seeking as a Social Practice: Findings to Develop the Fourth National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles. Sexually Transmitted Infections. 97(Suppl 1). STI & HIV World Congress, 14-17 Jul 2021. A126-A127. (doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2021-sti.332)

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Background: Rapid development and uptake of digital technologies have influenced sexual lives. As part of development research for the decennial British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal–4), we aimed to understand the practices of adults in Britain using digital technologies to meet sexual and romantic partners. Methods: We conducted 40 semi-structured interviews with adults in Britain on the role digital technologies played in their sexual lives. Here we draw on the accounts of 22 of those who had direct experience of online partner seeking. Informed by Social Practice Theory, we developed thematic codes encompassing the materials, skills and meanings that constitute online partner-seeking as a social practice. Findings: Online partner seeking is a social practice normalised in contemporary culture, enmeshed within broader online cultures of image presentation. It is associated with multiple goals and imbued with possibilities as well as risks. Material elements we identified related to the technology, its affordances, and how these shape interactions. We found that technological, interpersonal, and self-care skills were together required to seek and progress to various relationship forms and protect the self. Distinct linguistic, sexual, harm/damage limitation and exit strategies also drew on a range of skills. Participants reflected on how they presented themselves online, on their intentions, and on the skills required to ‘read’ situations and act authentically. Conclusion: While online partner seeking has often been considered individualistic, outcomes can be read through a lens of Social Practice Theory. Successful partner selection, communication and avoidance of harm depend on a complex learned constellation of the skills, materials and meanings associated with dating choices. Our findings have potential to inform survey questionnaire design and effective, nuanced health promotion interventions which consider intersecting dimensions of this social practice to build skills, develop goals and assess strategies to respond to unwanted interaction.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Mitchell, Professor Kirstin and Bosó Pérez, Raquel and Lewis, Dr Ruth
Authors: Reid, D., Bonell, C., Lewis, R., Hogan, B., Mitchell, K., Bosó Pérez, R., Gibbs, J., Smith, C., Attwood, F., Mercer, C., Sonnenberg, P., and Macdowall, W.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > School of Health & Wellbeing > MRC/CSO SPHSU
Published Online:06 July 2021

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