Teenagers are sending nude pictures of themselves via cell phone at much higher rates than previously thought, say the authors of a new investigation into the sexting phenomenon. The study, in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, also reveals that sexting is indicative of teens' sexual behavior overall and, particularly, girls' participation in risky sexual behaviors.
The researchers behind the study, from the University of Texas, surveyed around 1,000 students at seven public high schools in southeast Texas and found that 28 percent of adolescents have sent nude pictures of themselves through electronic means; more than half (57 percent) have been asked to send a nude picture; and about one-third (31 percent) have asked for a nude picture to be sent to them.
The researchers say these rates are at the higher end of estimates from other studies that indicated only a little more than one percent of teens had sent naked pictures. The authors note that the current findings, based on a much larger and more diverse sample than those used in previous research, provide a more accurate depiction of adolescents' sexting behaviors.
"It appears that sexting is a modern version of 'show me yours and I'll show you mine,' but the commonness of the behavior does not condone its occurrence. On the contrary, we found that teens are generally bothered by being asked to send a naked picture," said lead researcher Jeff Temple. "In fact, nearly all girls were bothered by having been asked, and among boys, more than half were bothered at least a little."
The researchers also examined the association between sexting and sexual activities and found that male and females who engaged in a variety of sexting behaviors were overwhelmingly more likely to have had sex than their peers who have not experienced sexting. Moreover, teen girlswho engaged in sexting had a higher prevalence of risky sexual behaviors, including multiple partners and using drugs or alcohol before sex.
Because the findings indicate that sexting may be a fairly reliable indicator of sexual behavior, Temple advises pediatricians and other tween- and teen-focused health care providers to consider screening for sexting behaviors and use it as an opportunity to discuss sexual behavior and safe sex.
Temple added that the ubiquity of sexting supports recent efforts to soften legal penalties of this behavior for juveniles. "If our findings were extrapolated nationally, under most existing laws several million teens would be prosecutable for child pornography or other sexual crimes," he said. "Doing so not only unjustly punishes youthful indiscretions, but minimizes the severity and seriousness of true sexual assault against minors. Resources currently used to criminally punish teen sexting could instead be diverted to prevention and education programs focusing on reducing risky sex behaviors among adolescents."
Discuss this article in our forum
Women lead in sexting stakes
Why It Feels Good To Be Bad
Source: University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston