Quick Study: For Teens, Sexting May Signal Risky Real-Life Sex

A study links sexting with being more sexually active and having more unprotected sex.

Sexting may not end at a text. A study finds that teens who sext are more likey to be sexually active and have unprotected sex. (Photo: Image Source/Getty Images)

Sep 17, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

The study: Teens who send sext messages (sexually explicit text messages or photos via cell phones) may be more prone to other risky sexually behavior, such as having unprotected sex. A study published online today in the journal Pediatrics surveyed 1,839 Los Angeles high schoolers, most age 14 to 17. The majority were Hispanic (72 percent), followed by African-American (12 percent) and white (9 percent). Most said they were heterosexual, and three-quarters owned a cell phone.

Among the 1,714 teens with a cell phone, more than 15 percent said they sexted, and 54 percent said they knew someone who enagaged in sexting. Teens who had sexted were more likely than those who hadn’t to be sexually active and to have had unprotected sex during their most recent sexual experience. Those more prone to sexting were older, African-American, and LGBTQ.

MORE: Detroit Schools Fighting Sexting With Plan to Search Student Cell Phones

What we already know: This study is the latest research in a growing pool of data on sexting. A June study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that a considerable number of teens could be sexting, but don’t understand the legal and psychological ramifications of their behavior.

Most studies, however, have concentrated on the number of teens who are sexting. This new paper backs up a study this year in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine on sexting and risky behavior; reserachers found that girls who sexted had more sexual partners in the previous year than girls who didn’t sext.

What it means for you: If you have a child you know or suspects is sexting, the American Academy of Pediatrics says it’s important to start a dialog with them: “Parents must begin the difficult conversation about sexting before there is a problem and introduce the issue as soon as a child is old enough to have a cell phone.”

Among tips for parents, the APA suggests being age-appropriate when discussing sexting, and making sure kids understand the serious consequences of sending explicit photos and texts.

What else can parents do to discourage their children from sexting? Let us know in the comments.

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