NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than one-quarter of teens engage in sexting and those who send explicit photos of themselves are more likely to become sexually active a year later, according to a study published on Monday.
But the study, reported in the journal Pediatrics, did not find a link between the sending of sexually explicit photos and texts with risky sexual behavior over time.
“I don’t think the behavior is new by any means, but the means by which we’re doing it is new and scary I think to everyone because it’s new, and because it can possibly be shared instantly with billions of people,” said Jeff Temple of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, lead author of the study.
Temple, an associate professor and psychologist, and his team used anonymous surveys to study nearly 1,000 second- and third-year high school students in Texas.
Twenty-eight percent of teens said they engaged in sexting. Adolescents who sent explicit photos of themselves to others during their second year of high school were more likely to say that they had engaged in sexual activity the following year than other adolescents.
But only active sexting, which the study defined as sending an explicit photo, was correlated with an increased likelihood of sexual activity. Passive sexting, asking for or receiving a photo, was not.
“It does seem to be a part of this repertoire of sexual behaviors, and really I think that offline behaviors and online behaviors seem to mimic each other,” Temple said.
The research is drawn from an ongoing six-year investigation of 974 adolescent students from southeast Texas. The teens periodically complete anonymous surveys detailing their history of sexting, sexual activity and other behaviors.
For parents and teachers, sexting among teens is troubling not only for reasons related to personal values surrounding sex, but because the photographs can be easily and widely shared.
The posting of nude photos of celebrities such as actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton on the Internet in September by an anonymous hacker, for instance, raised concerns about technology, security and privacy.
But Temple said that parents who discover their teens are sexting should not be overly worried because the discovery can serve as a springboard for important discussions about sexual health and related topics.
“The most important thing that I find with this study and my studies on sexting is really that it offers an opportunity for parents or healthcare providers to talk to teens about sex and safe sex, and I think that’s what we need to keep our eye on,” he said.
Reporting by Andrea Burzynski; Editing by Leslie Adler