A new study to be published in the journal Pediatrics found that sexting is the new norm among adolescents, and isn’t reserved just for at-risk teens. Although the study links sexting with later sexual activity, it found that those teens do not necessarily engage in risky sexual behavior later on.
The study suggests that sexting, though something to be concerned about, has become today’s new first base. In other words, it’s becoming a part of growing up.
“This behavior isn’t always new, it’s just a new medium,” said Jeff Temple, an associate professor and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and the study’s author. “But it’s not safe because it can be shared.”
The findings are from within the original 2012 study, done during a six year period. A diverse group of almost 1,000 adolescents in Southeast Texas answered anonymous surveys detailing their history of sexting (or sending sexually explicit images to another person electronically), sexual activity and other behaviors. It found that one in four teens had sexted, and that sexting was, in fact, related to sexual behavior.
Temple and his postdoctoral fellow, Hye Jeong Choi, then looked at data from years two and three of the surveys to determine if sexting led to risky behaviors or if risky behaviors came first.
“Sexting preceeded sexual behavior in many cases,” Temple said. “The theory behind that is sexting may act as a gateway or prelude to sexual behaviors or increases the acceptance of going to the next level.”
But the study found that among those teens having sex, most weren’t engaging in risky sexual behaviors.
So what do parents and educators do with this news? Use it for good, Temple said. “I think the really cool thing about this study in answering the question of what comes first is … this could hold the key to prevention programs.” If a teen is found to have sent a sext, that behavior could be a way to talk to them and promote healthy sexual behaviors, he said.
Temple, who spends much of his time working with teens in local high schools and middle schools to discuss issues related to sexuality said this news shouldn’t send parents locking their kids away. In fact, he welcomed the findings, as a “call to arms to talk to your kid about sexual health or behavior,” he said. “This is kind of good news that sexting comes first. So if I catch them sexting, then maybe I have an opportunity to talk to them.”
He speaks from a parent’s eye-view. His 11-year-old daughter “has a phone and is aware of what sexting is,” Temple said. “And I give talks in her middle school about this.” He’s pretty confident she’s all talked out at this point.
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