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Sexting Among Teens Increases Sexual Behavior

First Posted: Oct 06, 2014 07:30 AM EDT

New research says that sexting,  a new norm of adolescent development,  increases sexual behavior among teens.

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston looked at the association between sexting (sending sexually explicit images to another electronically) among teens and future sexual activity.

It was observed that sexting may precede sexual intercourse in a few cases and further reinforces the concept that sexting behavior is a key sign of teenage sexual activity. The researchers, however, did not find any association between sexting and risky sexual behavior over time, indicating that sexting is a normal part of teen development.

"We now know that teen sexting is fairly common," said Jeff Temple, an associate professor and psychologist at UTMB. "For instance, sexting may be associated with other typical adolescent behaviors such as substance use. Sexting is not associated with either good or poor mental well-being. Despite this growing body of knowledge, all existing sexting research looks across samples of different groups of young people at one time, rather than following the same people over time, said Temple. Because of this, it's unclear whether sexting comes before or after someone engages in sexual activity."

This finding is a part of an ongoing six-year investigation of an ethnically diverse group of adolescent students from southeast Texas. As a part of the study, the teens periodically completed surveys in which they gave details of their history of sexting, sexual activity and other related behavior in the last six years.

Researchers examined the data to determine whether teen sexting predicted sexual activity one year later and found that the risk of being sexually active as high school juniors was higher in youth who sent a sext or naked picture of oneself the previous year. There was no link between sexting with later risky sexual behavior.

"Being a passive recipient of or asking for a sext does not likely require the same level of comfort with one's sexuality," said Choi. "Sending a nude photo may communicate to the recipient a level of openness to sexual activity, promote a belief that sex is expected, and serve to increase sexual advances, all of which may increase the chance of future sexual behavior. Sexting may serve as a gateway behavior to actual sexual behaviors or as a way to indicate one's readiness to take intimacy to the next level."

The finding was documented in the journal Pediatrics. 

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