Checked Your Teens' Texts Lately?

Sexting among teens linked to riskier sexual behaviors

(RxWiki News) Who would have thought a text message could put a teen on a sex offender list? Yet this is one of the more extreme possible consequences of the increasing trend of "sexting."

"Sexting" is a word combined from "texting" and "sex" and involves the practice of sending someone a text message with sexually explicit content, usually nude images of the sender.

A recent study found that over a quarter of teens might engage in sexting — and it's linked to the other sexual behaviors they engage in as well.

"Talk to your child about the dangers of sexting."

The study, led by Jeff R. Temple, PhD, of the University of Texas Medical Branch, aimed to find out how prevalent the practice is in a representative group of Texas teenagers and how sexting is related to other sexual behaviors.

The data came from a long-term study of 948 students, aged 14 to 19 and split about evenly between males and females, at seven public high schools.

Through self-reported assessments of the teens' dating and sexual practices, the teens also responded to four questions related to sexting:

  • “Have you ever sent naked pictures of yourself to another through text or e-mail?"
  • “Have you ever asked someone to send naked pictures of themselves to you?”
  • “Have you ever been asked to send naked pictures of yourself through text or e-mail?”
  • “If so, how much were you bothered by this (not at all, a little, a lot, or a great deal)?”

They were also asked if they had begun dating, going out with someone or had a boyfriend or girlfriend and whether they had had sex.

If they had, they were asked how many partner they had slept with in the past year and how often they used drugs or alcohol before sex (classified as "never," "rarely," "sometimes" or "always").

The researchers took into account the respondents' age, gender, race/ethnicity and their parents' level of education.

A total of 28 percent of the respondents reported that they had sent a naked picture of themselves through text or email, and 31 percent said they had asked someone else for such a picture.

Over half (57 percent) had been asked to text or email a nude photo of themselves, and most were bothered about the request.

The researchers found that teens who engaged in sexting were more likely to have started dating and more likely to have had sex than those who didn't sext.

Girls who engaged in sexting were also more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol prior to having sex.

"Given its prevalence and link to sexual behavior, pediatricians and other tween-focused and teen-focused health care providers may consider screening for sexting behaviors," the authors wrote. "Asking about sexting could provide insight into whether a teen is likely engaging in other sexual behaviors (for boys and girls) or risky sexual behaviors (for girls)."

The study was published July 2 in JAMA's Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The research was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Additional support was provided by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health and the John Sealy Memorial Endowment Fund for Biomedical Research. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 17, 2012