‘Sexting’ reflects sexual behavior in adolescents

Research suggests that the prevalence of teenage "sexting," where adolescents send nude pictures of themselves or sexually explicit text messages by SMS, is on the increase and is a marker of risky sexual behavior.

"Specifically, more than one in four adolescents have sent a nude picture of themselves through electronic means, about half have been asked to send a nude picture, and about a third have asked for a nude picture to be sent to them," write the authors, who add that boys were more likely to ask for a sext and girls were more likely to send one.

As reported in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Jeff Temple (University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, USA) and colleagues evaluated the prevalence of sexting and its association with sexual behavior in 948 high school students from Texas between the age of 14 and 19 years (mean 15.8 years).

Overall, 28% of the students reported having ever sent a naked picture of themselves through text or email and 31% reported having asked for a sext.

Over half (57%), had been asked to send a sext and most were concerned by the request.

Boys and girls who took part in sexting were significantly more likely to have dated, had sex, or participated in risky sexual behavior than those who had never sexted.

More specifically, all those who had sexted had begun dating compared with 89.8% of those who had not, similarly 77.4% of those who had sexted had had sex compared with only 42.0% of those who had not.

Risky sexual behavior such as having more than one sexual partner over the previous year was also more common in those who had sexted than those who had not, at 55.8% versus 34.6%, as was drinking alcohol or taking drugs before sex, at 39.8% versus 26.5%.

"Given its prevalence and link to sexual behavior, pediatricians and other tween-focused and teen-focused healthcare providers may consider screening for sexting behaviors," say Temple et al.

"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)," they conclude.

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