Sept 18 One out of every seven Los Angeles high
schoolers with a cell phone has sent a sexually-explicit text
message or photo, and were also more likely to engage in risky
sexual behaviors, according to a study based on a 2011 survey.
The study, published in Pediatrics, found that the LA teens
who had sent racy texts were seven times more likely to be
sexually active than those who said they'd never sexted.
"What we really wanted to know is, is there a link between
sexting and taking risks with your body? And the answer is a
pretty resounding 'yes,'" said Eric Rice, a social network
researcher from the University of Southern California in Los
Angeles, who led the study.
A study of Houston, Texas high schoolers out earlier this
summer found that one in four teens had sent a naked photo of
themselves through text message or email, and those kids were
also much more likely to be having risky sex.
Rice's findings are based on 1,839 students in Los Angeles
high schools, most of who were Latino. Three-quarters of them
owned a cell phone that they used regularly.
On a survey sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, just over 40 percent of teens with a cell phone said
they'd had sex, and about two-thirds used a condom the last time
Rice said the rate of teen sexting in Houston may have been
slightly higher than in Los Angeles because of demographic
differences, but that overall the two reports are consistent.
"Somewhere in the middle is probably a pretty good estimate
of what's going on nationally," said Jeff Temple, a psychologist
and women's health researcher from The University of Texas
Medical Branch in Galveston, who worked on the Houston study.
His research found that girls in particular who'd sent naked
photos were more likely to engage in risky sex, to have had
multiple recent sex partners or to use alcohol and drugs before
"Sexting appears to be a reflection or an indication of
actual sexual behavior," Temple told Reuters Health. "What
they're doing in their offline lives is what they're doing in
their online lives."
With sexting, aside from the risky sexual behavior, there's
also the concern that naked photos will end up on the Internet
and teens will be bullied online, or that students who receive
explicit texts could be charged with child pornography.
Temple and his colleagues are currently working on a study
to see what typically comes first among teens - sexting or
Rice said that media coverage of sexting controversies could
be a good way for parents or teachers to talk to teens about
sexting and sex.
"Sexting might be an easier conversation for teachers to
start having with teens than a full-on conversation that starts,
'Let's talk about sex,'" he said.
(Reporting from New York by Genevra Pittman at Reuters Health;
editing by Elaine Lies)