According to a study on 948 Texas teens, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, more than 1 in 4 adolescents have sent a nude picture of themselves through electronic means. The authors found that “sexting” – the practice of electronically sending sexually explicit images or messages from one person to another – may be associated sexual behavior.

The researchers suggest that parents, schools, pediatricians, and policy makers do not have enough information regarding the nature and importance of teen sexting, as there is insufficient empirical data.

In order to identify the nature of sexting and its prevalence, Jeff. R. Temple, Ph.D., of the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) Health, Galveston, and his team examined 948 students, aged 14 to 19, from seven public high schools in Texas. The team also examined the association between sexting and sexual behaviors.

Study participants provided information about their dating history, sexual behaviors and sexting. In addition, the teens were asked four questions:

  • Have you ever sent nude photographs of yourself via email or text?
  • Have you ever asked someone to send you a nude picture?
  • Has somebody asked you to send a nude picture?
  • If so, how bothered were you by it?

The researchers explained:

“Specifically, more than 1 in 4 adolescents have send a nude picture of themselves through electronic means, about half have been asked to a nude picture, and about a third have asked for a nude picture to be sent to them. Boys, were more likely to ask and girls more likely to have been asked for a sext.”

The team found that sexting and being asked to send a nude photo was more prevalent among White/non-Hispanic and African American teens that other racial/ethnic groups. In addition, they discovered that adolescents who sexted (both boys and girls), were more likely to have started dating and to have had sex than teens who did not sext.

The researchers said:

“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. 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).”

In an associated report, Megan A. Moreno, M.D., M.S.Ed., M.P.H., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jennifer M. Whitehill, Ph.D., of the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center, University of Washington, Seattle, explained: “In summary, pediatricians should view social media as part of the integrated self of the adolescent patient. Pediatricians have new opportunities to ask their patients about social media, including questions about how time is spent in this environment. Discussing social media with patients may provide new ways to identify intentions or engagement in risky health behaviors.”

They conclude: “Health care providers and researchers may also consider building education or prevention efforts within social media, as previous work illustrates that teens may be willing to investigate topics such as sexual behavior in a social media setting.”

Written by Grace Rattue