Sexting, the combination of the words sex and texting, is the practice of electronically sending explicit images or messages from on person to another. There has been a lot of media attention in recent years looking at legal cases involving teens and sexting as well as cases of bullying or harassment of the teen who's picture is spread beyond the intended recipient.
But data on teen sexting has been lagging and different authors site numbers somewhere between 1% of teens to 30% of teens who have engaged in sexting. There is now some new real data out of The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston that not only looks at the prevalence of sexting among high school students, the study also looked as the relationship between sexting and sex and risky sexual behaviors. This was a really interesting study!
The study looked at 948 high school students from 7 public schools in Houston area, over a 2 year period. Participants ranged in age from 14-19 years and were in either 10th or 11th grade.
So, 28% (that's more than 1 in 4) of teens reported having sent a naked picture of themselves via text or e-mail (sexting). There were no differences between the number of boys and girls who sent a sext. However, 68% of girls reported having been asked to send a sext, compared with 42% of boys. But, 46% of boys had asked someone to sext compared to 21% of girls. Of those who were asked to send a sext, girls (27%) more often reported being bothered a great deal by this than boys (2%). Almost all girls and half of the boys were bothered a little bit by having been asked to sext.
Age also played a role in sexting with the proportion of teens who reported having been asked to send a sext peaking at 16-17 years of age (61%) and declining in those 18 years and older (53%).
Lastly, for both boys and girls, teens who had sexted were also more likely to have begun dating and to have had sex than those who did not sext. The study also showed that teen girls who engaged in sexting also engaged in more high risk sexual behaviors, admitting to multiple partners and the use of drugs or alcohol before sex.
Yes this is yet another topic for discussion among parents and their teens and also for pediatricians to discuss with their adolescent patients. Office visits keep getting longer; discussing sexting may also be a way for doctors to discuss sexual behaviors with teen patients.