Middle school students who send or receive “sexts” are more likely to be sexually active than those who don’t send sexually explicit messages and photos, according to new research. The study, published in the June 30 online Pediatrics, found that middle schoolers who reported receiving sexts were six times more likely to report being sexually active.
Researchers from the University of Southern California (USC) School of Social Work anonymously sampled more than 1,300 middle school students in Los Angeles as part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Study. Participants ranged in age from 10 to 15, with an average age of 12.3 years.
According to a USC news release, young teens who sent sexts were almost four times more likely to report being sexually active. In addition, the researchers found that young teens who sent more than 100 texts a day were more likely to report having had sex. Overall, 11 percent of the 841 participants who had text-capable phones reported that they had engaged in sexual intercourse.
“The surprise is that for younger kids – 11- to 13-year-olds – sexting is not an alternative to real-life sexual activity. It’s a part of it,” lead study author Eric Rice, PhD, an assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work, told HealthDay. “Also, kids who reported 100 or more text messages per day were much more likely to report sexting, so being an excessive texter may be an indication of risky behaviors,” added Rice.
The authors acknowledge that because their research was based on self-reported information, it may be biased. However, given the risks of sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy associated with early sexual activity, they see a pressing need for parents, teachers and pediatricians to educate young teens about the perils of sexting.
Other experts point to the legal ramifications of sexting. Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, noted in U.S. News and World Report that in most states if a minor sends a nude or sexually implicit image to another minor, it could result in charges of creating and distributing child pornography. Patchin also pointed to the emotional consequences of sexting, citing instances of explicit messages being spread as a form of harassment, in some cases leading to suicide.
Ultimately, the study authors say, parents need to communicate with their child about the dangers and consequences of sexting. “The sexting conversation should occur as soon as the child acquires a cell phone,” advised Rice in the USC news release.