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How many teens are sexting?

When we go on the internet and listen to stories, we often hear comments about sexting among teens.  With all of this talk, it may sound like this is something that all teens are doing.  However, according to a study published this week by JAMA Pediatrics, only about 14.8% of teens have sent these messages, and approximately 27.4% of teens have received a sext [1].  This means that roughly 17 out of 20 teens have never sent sexually explicit images, videos, or messages.

Though this rate is lower than we may have expected, sexting is becoming more commonplace, and that is cause for concern. Many teens, view sexting as private and therefore safe.  However, approximately 12%, are forwarding sexts without consent of the sender [1]. Additionally, many teens don’t realize that even though some messaging apps that allow video and image sharing appear private, they may not be [2].

Often times, sexting is a normal by-product of teens trying to establish their identities and wanting to explore their sexuality [2].  However, many teens just are not aware of the dangers that can come with sexting.  Along with these concerns, teens just need to be reminded that it’s not OK for them to be pressured to share more of their bodies than they’re comfortable, and that consent is theirs to give.

[1]  Madigan, S., Ly, A., & Rash, C. L. (2018, February 26). Prevalence of Multiple Forms of Sexting Behavior Among Youth. Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.5314

[2]  Gabriel, E. (2018, February 26). 1 in 4 young people has been sexted, study finds. Retrieved from CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/26/health/youth-sexting-prevalence-study/index.html

  • Maddy Kameny

    Great post and really important topic. This is a great example of something that public health professionals are going to have a hard time keeping up with – culture tends to move faster than we do.

  • Matthew Johnson

    This is a super important topic for us to think about as young people start getting cellphones younger and younger with more and more features. While I think any form of child pornography, including young people sexting, is problematic. I also think there are two important cultural features that we often miss: (1) consent and (2) stigma.

    In terms of consent, we clearly do a terrible job of teaching this to young people, but forwarding sexts without the person’s permission is a violation of consent. If we were all more respectful of each other, this would be less of an issue. Especially if we were more willing to call people out when they violate consent. I think this is even less likely for young people than it is for adults.

    In terms of stigma, I think the primary issue with sharing photos of our bodies is the way that it’s received by others in society. We’re only able to show certain parts of our bodies without facing stigma. Pictures containing nudity also make it more difficult to get various jobs in the future, but I don’t see why this should actually be an issue. Certainly, some people might not want to share their bodies beyond the sole few individuals they’ve chosen, but this is also a huge issue for sex workers who might want to find other employment.