Kids, Sexting and Sex

Sexting among middle school students linked to riskier sexual behavior

(RxWiki News) With new technology, there often comes new challenges, and the case is no different for cell phone texting. One challenge is addressing "sexting" among children and teens.

Sexting refers to sending or receiving sexually explicit photos or messages through cell phone text messaging.

A recent study found that sexting was associated with a greater likelihood of being sexually active among middle school students. Similar findings have been found for high school students in the past.

"Talk to your child about sex."

This study, led by Eric Rice, PhD, of the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, looked at whether sexting was linked to riskier sexual behavior among middle school students.

The researchers surveyed 1,285 students in Los Angeles middle schools through the 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

Among the full group, 20 percent who had a cell phone with text messaging ability reported having received a sext. Five percent reported having sent sexting messages.

Sexting was more common among students who already text a great deal.

Students were more than twice as likely to receive a sext and were 4.5 times more likely to send a sext if they reported text messaging at least 100 times per day.

Sexting students were also more likely to be sexually active.

Senders of sexts were more than three times more likely to report sexual activity, and sext recipients were seven times more likely to report sexual activity.

Another question investigated by the researchers was whether sexters were more or less likely to have unprotected sex. Interestingly, they found relationships between sexting and both unprotected sex and condom use.

The link to both likely had to do with the fact that such a small number of the students (79 of them) reported having had sex.

For example, those sending at least 100 text messages a day and those who had ever sent or received a sext were more likely to say they used a condom at their sexual encounter, compared to those reporting no sexual activity.

This finding seems obvious since those who did not report sexual activity would not report using a condom.

However, the finding is useful when it is compared to those reporting having had unprotected sex.

While those sending 100 messages a day were almost four times more likely to say they had used a condom, they were almost five times more likely to have unprotected sex.

Similarly, although those who had ever received a sext were 5.5 times more likely to have used a condom last time they had sex, they were 12 times more likely to say they had unprotected sex.

Therefore, the link to condom use and unprotected sex was related to the small sample of students who were having any sex, and the higher associations occurred with unprotected sex.

This finding reveals that riskier sexual behaviors were linked to sexting.

"Because early sexual debut is correlated with higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies, pediatricians should discuss sexting with young adolescents because this may facilitate conversations about sexually transmitted infection and pregnancy prevention," the authors wrote.

"Sexting and associated risks should be considered for inclusion in middle school sex education curricula," they said.

This study was published June 30 in the journal Pediatrics.

The research was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The authors reported no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 30, 2014