Depression, anxiety, and loneliness have long been recognized as global mental health concerns. To temporarily relieve psychological distress, self-soothing behavior is common, including engagement in sexual behaviors that are linked to positive mental well-being. Considering the COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated many mental health ailments alongside physical distancing regulations, we specifically examined online sexual behavior via the use of emergent digital sexual technologies, or sextech. In a 2019 study of 8004 American adults, we assessed whether people experiencing higher anxiety, depression, and/or loneliness were more likely to engage in sextech use. Furthermore, we examined whether anxiety or depression mediated the association between loneliness and sextech use, as loneliness is one contributor to anxiety and depression. People with higher anxiety and depression were more likely to engage in sextech. However, those who were more lonely were less likely to engage with sextech, suggesting the aforementioned patterns were not due to lack of social connection. Our findings suggest people with mental health struggles may be drawn to interactive, digital forms of sexual behavior as a means of alleviating symptoms through distraction or self-soothing. This insight offers an important pathway for expanding the scope of mental health interventions, particularly as technology becomes increasingly prevalent and accessible in everyday life.
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