Sexting leads adolescents to sexual risk taking

September 20, 2012

Adolescents who use their cell phones to send or receive sexually explicit messages and photos, called “sexting,†may perceive the activity as a safe alternative to real-life sexual encounters, but researchers have found that these children are at increased risk for other dangerous sexual behaviors. More >>

Adolescents who use their cell phones to send or receive sexually explicit messages and photos, called “sexting,” may perceive the activity as a safe alternative to real-life sexual encounters, but researchers have found that these children are at increased risk for other dangerous sexual behaviors.

In a cross-sectional study conducted among students aged 12 to 17 years from urban high schools in California, researchers found that of those students who had access to a cell phone, 15% reported ever having sent or received explicit text messages or images, and 54% of the students reported knowing at least 1 person who engaged in sexting.

Study participants who knew someone who sexted were 17 times more likely to also engage in sexting, suggesting that these students perceived sexting as normal behavior among their peers. In addition, students who sexted were more likely to report being sexually active and more likely to have had unprotected sex at their last encounter compared with students who did not sext.

Researchers said the association between sexting and risky sexual behaviors also highlights other dangers for adolescents, such as the potential for charges of child pornography against sexters who send explicit photos, even if they are aged younger than 18 years.

They suggest that physicians use the subject of sexting as a talking point with teenaged patients and their parents about the smart use of cell phones and other online social media in addition to discussing safe sex practices, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and prevention of pregnancy. Curricula about sexting and associated risky sexual behaviors also could be added to school-based health education programs.

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