According to a new study, teen “sexting” usually leads to actually having sex.
While past studies have shown that those teens who participate in sexting are more sexually active than those who do not, it has not previously been known which has come first — the sexting or the sex.
The survey, administered to 964 Texas high school students, most of them 10th graders over a 6-year period, found that 28% said they had ever sent a nude photo by text or email. In comparison to their peers, those students who sext were found to be 1/3 more likely to be sexually active one year later. Those teens, however, are not any more likely to engage in risky sexual activities.
“Sexting preceeded sexual behavior in many cases,” lead researcher Jeff Temple said. “The theory behind that is sexting may act as a gateway or prelude to sexual behaviors or increases the acceptance of going to the next level.”
Temple said the act of sexting is merely a normal part of the modern teenage experience and is widely considered to be the new “first base.” He went on to say that parents should not be so quick to take away their child’s phone, as this will not actually stop them from participating in sexual acts.
“This behavior isn’t always new, it’s just a new medium,” said Jeff Temple, an associate professor and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and the study’s author. “But it’s not safe because it can be shared.”
Temple instead suggests parents talk to their teenagers about how to engage in a healthy relationship.
“Sexting is just one of many factors that are related to teenagers’ sexual activity,” he pointed out. “Just taking away the phone isn’t going to do anything to stop kids from having sex.”
Critics of the survey, recently published in Pediatrics, look to a 2011 study which claimed to find only 1% of US teenagers age 10-17 admitting to sending or receiving a sexually explicit message.
Other studies have shown that today’s teenagers are more responsible when it comes to sex, with pregnancy rates falling since the 1990s, and fewer teenagers stating they have had multiple partners.
Temple, however, believes the study to be of use. Because it answers the question of which came first, it can be used as a prevention method.
“This is kind of good news that sexting comes first. So if I catch them sexting, then maybe I have an opportunity to talk to them.”
An earlier study suggests that pediatricians should discuss the topic of sexting with their teenage patients, as it could be used to start discussions concerning safe sex.