USC researchers, who defined 'sext' in their survey as a sexually suggestive text or photo, have provided a new understanding of the relationship between "sexting" and sexual behavior in early adolescence, contributing to an ongoing national conversation about whether sexually explicit text messaging is a risk behavior or just a technologically-enabled extension of normal teenage flirtation.
The researchers were particularly interested in young teens, as past data had shown clear links between early sexual debut and risky sexual behavior, including teenage pregnancy, sex under the influence of drugs or alcohol, experience of forced sex and higher risk of sexually transmitted disease.
Assistant professor and lead author Eric Rice said that the findings call attention to the need to train health educators, pediatricians and parents on how best to communicate with young adolescents about sexting in relation to sexual behavior. The sexting conversation should occur as soon as the child acquires a cell phone.
The study anonymously sampled more than 1,300 middle school students in Los Angeles, aged from 10-15, as part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The researchers found that even when controlling for sexting behaviors, young teens who sent more than 100 texts a day were more likely to report being sexually active.
It was also found that students who identified as LGBTQ were 9 times more likely to have sent a sext. However, unlike past research on high school students, LGBTQ young adolescents were not more likely to be sexually active.
Overall, 20 percent of students with text-capable cell phones said they had ever received a sext, and 5 percent report sending a sext, and Rice said that as per their results, excessive, unlimited or unmonitored texting seems to enable sexting.
The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.