A new study has found a link between teenage sexual activity and “sexting” -- using cellphone devices to send sexually suggestive or explicit messages and photos.
In short, teens who “sext” are seven times more likely to have sex.
The study polled more than 1,800 Los Angeles high school-age students. Of those polled, 15% acknowledged sexting, and 54% reported knowing someone who had sent a sext. Why is that second figure relevant? Because the study found that “knowing someone who sexted was strongly associated with an individual’s own sexting behavior.”
“There is peer pressure around sexting,” said lead researcher Eric Rice, assistant professor at the University of Southern California. His findings were published Monday in the medical journal Pediatrics.
Rice told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that “sexting is still a minority activity.”
But, he said, “there is an emerging sense of normalcy around sexting behavior. If you have friends that sext, you are 17 times more likely to sext.”
Rice said he did not want his findings to alarm parents or drive them to pore over their kids’ cellphone messages looking for evidence. Rather, he hopes that the results will encourage parents to talk with their teenagers about sex and sexting.
“I don’t want to encourage parents ... [to be] paranoid,” he said. “Clearly, not every single teen is doing this.”
Perhaps, he said, his study can help parents open the door to a conversation that many dread. “It could be something as simple as saying to your kid, ‘Hey, I heard about this study about teens and sexting. Do you know anyone who does that? What do you think about that?’ and go from there.”
Rice said he also hopes the findings will encourage discussions about sexting and its associated risk in school-based sexual health curricula.
“Sexting may be particularly detrimental for adolescent populations because of the likelihood that sexually explicit material will be quickly shared throughout young people’s technologically active social groups,” he said.