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Sexting and sexual behavior on the increase among middle-schoolers

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Sexting incidences are frequently being reported by the media; sadly, a new study has found that both sexting and sexual behavior are increasing among middle-schoolers. The study was published online on January 6 in the journal Pediatrics by researchers at the Bradley/Hasbro Children’s Research Center, Rhode Island Hospital, and The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

The aim of the study aimed to examine the frequency of sexting behaviors¬––sexually explicit messages and/or pictures¬¬––among early adolescents as well as the associations between sexting behaviors and sexual behaviors, comprehension of the risks involved in such behaviors, and emotional regulation skills. In addition, the researchers attempted to determine whether differences in risk were associated with text-based compared to photo-based sexts.

The study group comprised seventh graders who were participating in a sexual risk prevention trial for at-risk early adolescents; the subjects completed a computer-based survey at baseline regarding sexting behavior (i.e., having sent sexually explicit messages and/or pictures), sexual activities, intentions to have sex, perceived approval of sexual activity, and emotional regulation skills.

The investigators found that 22% of the students reported having sexted in the past six months; sexual messages were acceptable by 17% (71 students), sexual messages and photos were endorsed by 5% (21 students). Pictures were endorsed significantly more often by females and Latinos. Sadly, sexting of any kind was associated with higher rates of engaging in a variety of sexual behaviors; compared to sending text messages only, sending photos was associated with higher rates of sexual activity. This finding was true for a range of behaviors from touching genitals over clothes, to oral sex, to vaginal sex.

The authors concluded that sexting behavior (both photos and text messages) was not uncommon among middle school teens and co-occurred with sexual behavior. They cautioned that these data suggest that phone behaviors, even flirtatious messages, may be an indicator of risk. They recommended that healthcare professionals, parents, and health programs should discuss sexting with early adolescents.

Take home message:
This study reported that a significant number of teens who had just entering puberty were sexting and engaging in sexual activity; thus, parents should be on the lookout for signs that their teen is sexting.

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