Nearly 30 Percent Of Teens Participate In Sexting

By Amir Khan on July 3, 2012 8:30 AM EDT

Sexting
Teens are sexting more often than previous estimates, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

Teens are sexting more often than previous estimates, according to a new study, published in the journal the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine on Monday. Researchers found that close to 30 percent of teens send naked pictures of themselves via email or text and say that the behavior is indicative of the teens overall sexual behavior.

Researcher surveyed 1,000 students at seven high schools in Texas and found that 28 percent admitted to sending naked pictures of themselves. In addition, 57 percent have been asked to send a naked picture and 31 have asked for a naked picture to be sent to them.

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"It appears that sexting is a modern version of 'show me yours and I'll show you mine,' but the commonness of the behavior does not condone its occurrence," Jeff Temple, study author and UTMB assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said in a statement. "On the contrary, we found that teens are generally bothered by being asked to send a naked picture. In fact, nearly all girls were bothered by having been asked, and among boys, more than half were bothered at least a little."

These rates are higher than previous estimates generated from online research and polls that suggested only 1 percent of teens participate in sexting. Researchers said this most recent study, which is based on a much larger and more diverse sample than previous studies, is more indicative of actual teen behavior.

"Pediatricians, policy makers, schools and parents have been handicapped by insufficient information about the nature and importance of teen sexting," Temple said. "These findings shed new light on the public health importance of this increasingly common behavior and we hope that the data contributes to improved adolescent health care."

Teen girls, but not boys, who sexted had a higher risk of risky sexual behavior, according to the study. Because of this, researchers said doctors need to discuss sexual behavior with their teen patients, including safe sex methods. They added that parents need to speak to their children as well.

Temple also said that the study shows that the federal government needs to soften legal penalties for sexting.

"If our findings were extrapolated nationally, under most existing laws several million teens would be prosecutable for child pornography or other sexual crimes," he said. "Doing so not only unjustly punishes youthful indiscretions, but minimizes the severity and seriousness of true sexual assault against minors. Resources currently used to criminally punish teen sexting could instead be diverted to prevention and education programs focusing on reducing risky sex behaviors among adolescents."

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