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Posted at 04:25 PM ET, 07/02/2012

One in four teens has sent a ‘sext’

A study released Monday afternoon finds that one in four teens has “sexted” a nude image of him or herself via e-mail or text message.

(Eric Risberg - Associated Press)
The survey of 948 students ages 14 to 19 (in grades 10 and 11) at seven Texas high schools sought to pin down just how prevalent the practice of sexting is among teens and to determine whether sexting is linked to other sex-related behaviors. The authors note that the estimates commonly bandied about derive from assessments such as polls that haven’t been subject to scientific peer review. (This study only looked at the sending of nude images via text or e-mail, not other forms of “sexting” such as sending messages that, while suggestive or worse, contain only words.)

In their own peer-reviewed study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, more than a quarter (27.6 percent) of the teens said they’d sent a nude picture of themselves. More than half (57 percent) said they’d been asked to send a nude photo of themselves and nearly a third (31 percent) had asked someone else to send them a nude photo. Guys were more likely than girls to have made such a request; girls were more likely than guys to have been asked for a sext.

Among those who’d been asked to send a nude image of themselves, almost all the girls (93 percent) and 54 percent of boys reported they felt bothered by the request; 27 percent of girls said they were bothered “a great deal,” while just 3 percent of boys said they were bothered to that degree. The authors note that the term “bothered” needs further exploration, as it’s not clear whether respondents meant they felt embarrassed, annoyed or some other form of being bothered. Among boys and girls alike, those who had taken part in sexting were more likely than non-sexters to have begun dating and to have had sexual intercourse. Girls who’d sexted were also more likely than girls who hadn’t to have had more than one sexual partner and to have used drugs or alcohol before engaging in sex.

The authors take all this to mean that sexting is pretty common and that it’s bound up with teenagers’ sexual development. They suggest that pediatricians should ask their teenage patients about sexting, as such discussions could offer insight into a teen’s overall sexual behavior. Finally, the authors suggest that policies in which teen sexting is treated as a criminal act of child pornography be reconsidered with an eye toward understanding sexting as part of adolescents’ development — while continuing to protect against its most dire potential consequences.

From the study:

"Under most existing laws, if our findings were extrapolated nationally, several million teens could be prosecuted for child pornography. Sexting may be more aptly conceptualized as a new type of sexual behavior in which teens may (or may not) engage. In an adolescent period characterized by identity development and formation, sexting should not be considered equivalent to childhood sexual assault, molestation, and date rape. Doing so not only unjustly punishes youthful indiscretions, but minimizes the severity and seriousness of true sexual assault against minors. At the same time, any efforts to soften penalties of sexting should be done cautiously so as not to introduce legal loopholes for other cases involving sexual assault. Further, while juvenile-to-juvenile sexting may come to be understood as part of adolescents’ repertoire of sexual behaviors, this understanding should not be applied to sexting between teens and adults, or when sexting is used to bully others."

What do you think of the numbers this study presents? Do you think the percentages seem high or low?

By Jennifer Huget  |  04:25 PM ET, 07/02/2012

Tags:  sexting

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