GALVESTON, Texas (KXAN) - Teens are "sexting" — sending nude photos of themselves via text messaging or emails -- at higher rates than previously reported, according to a new study of the behavior. In addition, the research showed that teens asked to send nude photos are bothered by the request, yet still do it.
In the first study of the public health impact of teen sexting, researchers found that close to 30 percent are engaging in the practice, which is considered a crime in most states. The practice is indicative of teens' sexual behavior overall and, particularly, girls' participation in risky sexual behaviors, researchers said.
The researchers examined the association between sexting and sexual activities, and found that male and females who engaged in a variety of sexting behaviors were overwhelmingly more likely to have had sex than their peers who have not experienced sexting.
The findings, from a University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston study, the first to explore the public health impact of sexting, are published in the July 2 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.
The authors write that the current findings, based on a larger and more diverse sample than those used in previous research, provide a more accurate depiction of U.S. adolescents' sexting behaviors than previous data.
Researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 students at seven public high schools in Southeast Texas and found that 28 percent of adolescents have sent nude photos of themselves through electronic means; 57 percent were asked to send someone a nude picture; and 31 percent asked for a nude picture to be sent to them.
These rates are at the higher end of other estimates generated from available online research and polls, and higher than other peer-reviewed data which suggested a little more than 1 percent of teens had sent naked pictures, according to the researchers.
"It appears that sexting is a modern version of ‘show me yours and I'll show you mine,' but the commonness of the behavior does not condone its occurrence. On the contrary, we found that teens are generally bothered by being asked to send a naked picture," said lead author Jeff Temple , UTMB assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. "In fact, nearly all girls were bothered by having been asked, and among boys, more than half were bothered at least a little."
Teen girls — but not boys — who engaged in sexting had a higher prevalence of risky sexual behaviors, including multiple partners and using drugs or alcohol before sex, according to the study.
Temple believes this gender difference may be attributed at least in part to social beliefs about sexting, particularly that it may be perceived permissively and positively for boys and thus, not considered risky or to be associated with other dangerous behaviors.
Girls, on the other hand, may be perceived by others as promiscuous if they sext. If willing to risk their reputations, they may be inclined to take other risks as well, researchers concluded.
A 2008 report from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy indicated that 22 percent of teen girls said they have electronically sent or posted online nude or semi-nude images of themselves. This study interviewed 1,280 teens and young adults. It found that nude photos have been sent to people whom 15 percent of them have only met online, not in person. Reasons given for why they did it included:
- to be "fun or flirtatious"
- as a "sexy present" for their boyfriends
- as a "joke"
"Pediatricians, policy makers, schools and parents have been handicapped by insufficient information about the nature and importance of teen sexting," said Temple. "These findings shed new light on the public health importance of this increasingly common behavior and we hope that the data contributes to improved adolescent health care."
Because the findings suggest that sexting may be a fairly reliable indicator of sexual behavior, Temple advises pediatricians and other tween- and teen-focused health care providers consider screening for sexting behaviors and use it as an opportunity to discuss sexual behavior and safe sex — reinforcing similar recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics. He said parents should counsel their teens about these issues, and that a discussion about sexting may be a less intimidating door opener to a talk about sex.
"If our findings were extrapolated nationally, under most existing laws several million teens would be prosecutable for child pornography or other sexual crimes," he said. "Doing so not only unjustly punishes youthful indiscretions, but minimizes the severity and seriousness of true sexual assault against minors. Resources currently used to criminally punish teen sexting could instead be diverted to prevention and education programs focusing on reducing risky sex behaviors among adolescents."
In Texas, legislators passed a law in April 2011, which reduces the previous criminal penalties for teens who are caught sexting. Senate Bill 407, sponsored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, allows prosecutors to charge teens age 17 or younger with a misdemeanor if they are caught sending sexual text messages to their friends. The crime was previously considered a felony, which would have meant teens charged and convicted had to register as sex offenders.
A follow-up study exploring the psychological impact of sexting is under way. Temple said that future research should include longitudinal studies that explore whether adolescents' sexual experiences and engagement in risky sexual behavior precede or follow sexting behaviors.
This UT-Galveston research was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health and the John Sealy Memorial Endowment Fund for Biomedical Research.
Co-authors of the study included Jonathan A. Paul, Patricia van den Berg, Vi Donna Le, Amy McElhany, and Dr. Brian Temple. Participating research institutions include UT School of Public Health and Childhood Health Associates of Salem, Ore.
Late Saturday night into early Sunday morning, a light band of freezing drizzle traversed the I-35 corridor eastward. With sub-freezing temperatures, even the light precipitation created major problems.
APD is responding to a 25 vehicle accident near the 5400 block of Ed Bluestein near Thurgood Ave.
A man is dead after being hit by several vehicles in the eastbound lane of Highway 71 Saturday night.
A representative at the Fayette County Sheriff's office said that Fayette County is effectively shut down due to icy conditions.
The Austin City Council is set to vote Thursday on design changes for the Auditorium Shores Dog Park.
Bryce Petty threw touchdown passes on the first two drives of the second half for No. 9 Baylor and the Bears won their first Big 12 title and a Fiesta Bowl berth with a 30-10 victory over No. 23 Texas on Saturday.