More than one in five middle-school aged children with behavioural or emotional problems has recently engaged in sexting, according to a new study.
What's more, researchers found those who reported sexting in
the past six months were four to seven times more likely to also engage in other
sexual behaviours, compared to adolescents who said they didn't sext.
know early adolescents are using mobile phones and all forms of technology more
and more and we know that early adolescence is a time when people become engaged
in sexual activity," Christopher Houck said. "So how those two connect is an
important area of study."
Houck is the study's lead author and a staff
psychologist at Rhode Island Hospital's Bradley Hasbro Children's Research
Center in Providence.
"Sexting" refers to sending nude or seminude images
or sexually explicit messages over an electronic device, such as a mobile
Previous research has found that about one in four teens admits to
sexting, but the new study is among the first to estimate how many younger
adolescents send sexually explicit images or messages.
however, that the findings are based on youths who were determined to have
behavioural and emotional problems. They may not apply to all middle-school aged
The 420 participants, who were between 12 and 14 years old,
were recruited from five urban public middle schools in Rhode Island between
2009 and 2012.
The results are based on an initial questionnaire the
participants took as part of a larger study that is attempting to reduce risky
behaviours among adolescents with behavioural or emotional
Overall, 17 percent of the participants said they had sent a
sexually explicit text message in the past six months. Another 5 percent
reported sending both sexually explicit text messages and nude or seminude
photos, according to findings published Monday in the journal
Adolescents who said they were further along in puberty and
those who had trouble processing their emotions were most likely to report
"It could be that for kids who have trouble with emotional
processing that it's a little bit easier to sext somebody than to say
face-to-face, 'Hey, I like you' and see what that response is," Houck
The researchers also found that participants who reported any type
of sexting were between four and seven times more likely to engage in other
sexual behaviours, compared to those who didn't sext.
behaviours included making out, touching genitals and having vaginal or oral
Adolescents who reported sending sexually explicit images in
addition to text messages were the most likely to engage in those other
behaviours, according to the researchers.
Youths who reported sexting
were also more likely to report intending to have sex, Houck said.
think it adds to the growing literature on this that the line between offline
and online behaviors is becoming increasingly blurred," Jeff Temple, who was not
involved with the new research, told Reuters Health of the study.
is director of behavioural health and research in the Department of Obstetrics
and Gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
said this and similar studies reinforce calls for parents and guardians to have
ongoing conversations with adolescents about sexual behaviors, including
"It should go hand in hand with a talk about healthy
relationships and sexual behaviour," Temple said. "It's just part of the new
portfolio of adolescence these days."
In a previous study, Temple and his
colleagues found that almost 60 percent of teens had been asked to send naked
photos of themselves through text or email.
"That's going to happen," he
said. "Your kid is going to be asked to send a naked picture."
conversations about sexting should be worked into talks that parents should be
having throughout their child's lifespan about developmental
"If you're waiting for your child to come to you and you
never broached that topic, they're not going to know you're open to that kind of
conversation," he said.
Houck also said sexting may be a way for a
pediatrician to broach the topic of broader sexual behaviour.
be sometimes a less threatening strategy to get adolescents to open up," he