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So, What Base Qualifies as Teen Sexting?

Tim Boyer's picture
Teen interests and sexting

According to a recent article published in the journal Pediatrics, it appears that teen sexting is the new petting of the digital generation. And, just as petting during a date could lead to sexual intercourse was a reasonable fear among parents, the authors of the study found that the sending of sexually explicit images and text between boys and girls referred to as “sexting” can lead to an increased risk of risky sexual behavior as well.

One of the sociological problems with the relatively new phenomenon of sexting among teens is that aside from the potential for a minor or minors involved running afoul of the law and wind up charged and labeled as a child sex offender/predator, is that it is not clear the actual extent of sexting among teens and whether this earns classification as a risky behavior that could lead to an increase in the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases and/or unwanted pregnancies.

This is further compounded by differing views of what it means when teens sext. If for example, all cases of teen sexting were limited to two underage minors that are dating, some may argue that sexting is a new means by which adolescents can explore their sexuality by engaging in digital sexual experimentation as their sexual self develops—perhaps even as a safer substitute for more physical actions that carry health risks.

However, this line of thinking is fantasy of another type. Multiple news reports about sexting invariably are horror stories where public humiliation, sexual coercion and suicide have resulted because the ease of transmitting sensitive images instantly and publically is only a tap of a finger away.

In a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, the authors of the study argue that sexting should be considered to be a risky sexual behavior because it can lead to health issues such as sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy. Previous research has focused primarily on how prevalent sexting is among teens. In their study, the authors took the research one step further by asking the question, “Is sexual activity associated with sexting?”

The researchers examined this question by taking a probability sample using a survey of 1,839 students in Los Angeles high schools about their cell phone use and their level of sexual experiences.

What the researchers found was that:

• Fifteen percent of adolescents with cell phone access reported sexting.
• Fifty-four percent reported knowing someone who had sent a sext.
• Adolescents whose peers sexted were more likely to sext themselves.
• Adolescents who themselves sexted were more likely to report being sexually active.
• Non-heterosexual students were more likely to report sexting, sexual activity and unprotected sex during their last sexual encounter.

The authors of the study concluded that the use of sexting, rather than functioning as an alternative to “real world” sexual risk behavior, appears to be part of a cluster of risky sexual behaviors among adolescents. So, in other words, sexting is basically digital petting that can and does lead to an increased risk of “going further” that can then lead to health and social consequences. In baseball parlance, a parent may equate this with third base has been rounded and someone is trying to steal home plate.

Recommendations by the authors are that physicians discuss sexting with adolescent patients as a way to assess the patient’s level of sexual activity and engage in discussion about the risks involved.

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For parents who are concerned about their teenagers use of a cell phone and the temptation or peer pressure to engage in sexting, an FBI law enforcement bulletin offers “Advice for Young People” tips provided by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on Tips to Prevent Sexting:

Advice for Young People

• Think about the consequences of taking, sending, or forwarding a sexual picture of yourself or someone else underage. You could get kicked off of sports teams, face humiliation, lose educational opportunities, and even get in trouble with the law.

• Never take images of yourself that you wouldn’t want everyone—your classmates, your teachers, your family, or your employers—to see.

• Before hitting send, remember that you cannot control where this image may travel. What you send to a boyfriend or girlfriend easily could end up with their friends, and their friends, and their friends.

• If you forward a sexual picture of someone underage, you are as responsible for this image as the original sender. You could face child pornography charges, go to jail, and have to register as a sex offender.

• Report any nude pictures you receive on your cell phone to an adult you trust. Do not delete the message. Instead, get your parents or guardians, teachers, and school counselors involved immediately.

For more information about teen sexting, follow the link to an article titled “From Social Networking to Sexual Networking: The Latest on Teen Sexting.”

Image Source: Courtesy of MorgueFile


“Sexually Explicit Cell Phone Messaging Associated With Sexual Risk Among Adolescents”
Pediatrics; originally published online September 17, 2012; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2012-0021; Eric Rice et al.

FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: Sexting—Risk Actions and Overreactions