Of almost 1,000 teens surveyed in Texas, more than half reported being asked to text or email a naked picture of themselves; of these, most felt uncomfortable with the request. Still, 28 percent of the teens surveyed said they had sent such a photo.
Sexting -- when a person sends sexually explicit images or messages to someone else -- has been covered widely in the press. It has led to legal cases where teens have created, sent, received, stored, or disseminated nude pictures of themselves or other teens, or been bullied as a result of distribution of such photos.
In a study recently reported in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 948 public high school students, age 14 to 19 years, were asked about their history of dating, sexual behaviours, and sexting. For the purposes of this study, the term 'sexting' was limited to the sending or requesting of nude photographs. The investigators also asked the teens who received requests for naked photos whether they were bothered by such requests.
The researchers found that 57 percent of teens had been asked to send a nude photo by text or e-mail, 28 percent had sent such a photo, and 31 percent had asked another teen for a naked photo. The proportion of teens who said they were asked to send a nude photo peaked at age 16 or 17, then declined in those age 18 and older.
As might be expected, boys were more than twice as likely to have requested a nude photo than girls. Of those who received requests to send a nude picture, almost all girls and more than half of boys felt uncomfortable with the request.
Girls who had sent or received nude photos were more likely to have participated in risky sex behaviour, including multiple sex partners, and use of drugs or alcohol before sex. The same was not true for boys.
The researchers concluded that health care providers need to talk to their teen patients about sexting and risky sexual behaviours.
They also said, if their findings were extrapolated nationally, "several million teens could be prosecuted for child pornography. In an adolescent period characterized by identity development and formation, sexting should not be considered equivalent to childhood sexual assault, molestation, and date rape. Doing so not only unjustly punishes youthful indiscretions, but minimizes the severity and seriousness of true sexual assault against minors. Furthermore, while juvenile-to-juvenile sexting may come to be understood as part of adolescents' repertoire of sexual behaviours, this understanding should not be applied to sexting between teens and adults or when sexting is used to bully others."