1. Twenty percent of surveyed middle school students with access to a text-capable cell phone reported receiving sexually explicit text messages or “sexts,” while 5% reported sending sexts.
2. Both receiving and sending sexts were associated with sexual activity; students texting more than 100 times per day were more likely to be engaged in sexting and to be sexually active.
Evidence Rating Level: 2 (Good)
Study Rundown: Early sexual debut is associated with an increased likelihood of teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, multiple partners, and being forced to have sex. As such, understanding the behaviors surrounding sexual activity in adolescents is important to guide health educational efforts. Previous literature found an association between high school student “sexting” (sending or receiving sexually explicit text or photo messages) and sexual activity. This study examined middle school students and found that students in this age group also engaged in sexting. Those students who sent or received sexts were more likely to be sexually active. This cross-sectional study was limited by its ability to only draw associations rather than establish causality. Nonetheless, these findings point to the need for parental monitoring of adolescent texting patterns and inclusion of sexting into health educational efforts. Also, health educational efforts should address sexting and further research is required to elucidate behavior patterns surrounding cell phone usage and sexual activity.
Relevant Reading: Teens and Sexting
Study Author, Dr. Eric Rice, PhD, talks to 2 Minute Medicine: School of Social Work, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California.
“Only 5% or middles of middle school students in Los Angeles reported sending a sext and 20% reported receiving a sext (a sexually explicit text, video or photo on their phones). Kids who reported sending more than 100 text messages a day were more likely to report sexting behaviors. The kids who reported sexting were 6 times more likely to report being sexually active, compared to the kids who did not report receiving a sext and the kids who sent a sext were 4 times more likely to be sexually active than the kids who did not send a sext. Parents and teachers need to know that even kids as young as 11 are sexting and that sexting kids are also having sex. Information about the legal and personal risks of sexting should be included in middle school health programs.”
In-Depth [cross sectional study]: This study examined survey responses from 1285 middle school students (ages 10-15) in Los Angeles, collected through the 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Sexting was defined as sending or receiving sexually explicit cell phone text or photo messages. Of the 841 students with access to a text-capable cell phone, 20.10% reported receiving and 4.64% reported sending a sext. Approximately 39% of these students reported texting 100+ times per day, which was defined as excessive texting per the study. Compared to students texting less or not at all, excessive texters were more likely to be sexually active (OR = 4.1), receive sexts (OR = 2.4), and send sexts (OR = 4.5). Excessive texting in sexually active students was associated with both unprotected sex and condom use, when compared to non-sexually active students. Boys in this studied group were significantly more likely to report being sexually active (OR = 2.6, P < 0.01) when compared to girls.
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