Research Shows Teens Who ‘Sext’ More Likely To Take Health Risks

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A 2011 survey that found "sexters" more likely to engage in risky sex behaviors.

“Sexting” Among Teens Equates To Riskier Sexual Behavior

If you’re a parent of a child with a cell phone, especially a teenager with a cell phone, it may be in your best interest to make sure your teen isn’t exchanging sexually explicit messages or “sext” messages with friends. A recent survey shows that teens who engage in sexting are more than likely to have risky sexual behavior.

One out of every seven high schooler with a cell phone has sent a sexually-explicit text message or photo, according to results of a 2011 survey that also found “sexters” more likely to engage in risky sex behaviors. The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, was conducted on 1,839 high school students in Los Angeles, most of whom were Latino. Three-quarters of them owned a cell phone that they used regularly.

n the new study, the LA teens who had sent racy texts were seven times more likely to be sexually active than those who said they’d never sexted. “No one’s actually going to get a sexually transmitted disease because they’re sexting. What we really wanted to know is, is there a link between sexting and taking risks with your body? And the answer is a pretty resounding ‘yes,‘” Eric Rice, a social network researcher from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who led the new study told Reuters Health.

A study of Houston, Texas, high schoolers out earlier this summer found one in four teens had sent a naked photo of themselves through text message or email, and those kids were also much more likely to be having risky sex. (See Reuters Health story of July 2, 2012). On a survey sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over 40% of teens with a cell phone said they’d had sex, and about two-thirds used a condom the last time they did.

Rice attributes the slightly higher rate of teen sexting in Houston to demographic differences, but overall the two reports are consistent. “Somewhere in the middle is probably a pretty good estimate of what’s going on nationally,” said Jeff Temple, a psychologist and women’s health researcher from The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston who worked on the Houston study.

Temple’s research found that girls in particular who’d sent naked photos were more likely to engage in risky sex, to have had multiple recent sex partners or to use alcohol and drugs before sex. “Sexting appears to be a reflection or an indication of actual sexual behavior. What they’re doing in their offline lives is what they’re doing in their online lives,” Temple told Reuters Health. Temple and his colleagues are currently working on a study to see what typically comes first among teens – sexting or sex.

Sexting might be an easier conversation for teachers to start having with teens than a full-on conversation that starts, ‘Let’s talk about sex,‘” Rice said. For now, he said parents and teachers may be able to use media coverage of the latest celebrity or politician sexting controversy as means to talk to teens about sexting and actual sex – especially because the two are so closely linked.



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