A new study suggests a link between sexting and increased sexual behavior among middle-schoolers. The study, published Jan. 6 by the health journal Pediatrics, states that approximately one out of every five middle-schoolers with behavioral or emotional issues had recently participated in sexting, which means sending sexually explicit messages and photos via mobile devices.
The Pediatrics study focused primarily on middle-schoolers with behavioral or emotional problems, and does not reflect the general population of middle schoolers.
Between the years 2009 and 2012, the study was conducted with 420 students ages 12 through 14, all of whom were from five public middle schools in Rhode Island. Twenty two percent of the students had sexted, with 17% having sent a sexually explicit text within the last six months and five percent having sent both sexually explicit texts and semi-nude or nude photos. Researchers found that these students were four to seven times more likely to indulge in sexual behavior. Sexual behavior can involve kissing, intimate touching, oral sex or sexual intercourse. The participants also reported a plan to have sex.
There have been previous studies on sexting among high schoolers. In a September 2012 study in JAMA Pediatrics, 948 students from seven public high schools in Texas participated. Of these students, 28% had sent a nude picture of themselves via text and 31% had requested a sext from someone. This study revealed a strong connection between sexting and dating and participating in sexual behavior. Those who did not sext were less likely to indulge in such behavior.
Christopher Houck, the lead researcher of the Pediatrics study who works as a staff psychologist at Rhode Island Hospital’s Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center, said, “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.”
It’s only been in recent years that sexting has become more commonplace. The proliferation of social media sites and mobile communications devices has led to increasingly risky behavior in youth. Youth may consider sexting to be harmless when it is quite the opposite, and can lead to poor judgment in sexual situations. The JAMA Pediatrics study showed that 77% of girls and 82% of boys who had sexted had had sex. Compare these numbers with 42% of girls and 45% of boys who have not sexted, and it is clear the connection between sexting and sexual behavior is high. It is not known, however, whether sexting preceded the sexual behavior or if the sexual behavior preceded sexting. This distinction has not been made.
The issue of sexting should be broached by parents. If the sex conversation hasn’t happened in the home, now is a precarious time for the youth of today, and this conversation is more important than ever. The sexting topic should also be broached by health providers as a general conversation with their young patients about sex and sexual health. As it appears more youth are having sex, the issues of STD prevention and birth control become all too important conversations to have. As youth are still in the throes of emotional and physical development, it can be difficult for them to be the best judges in sexual situations.
By Juana Poareo