Sexting photos seen as a precursor to teen intercourse

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 15, 2014.

With the emergence of smartphones in the last decade, teenage sexting is increasingly common. Photo: By Nacoki ( MEDIA ARC ), Getty Images/Flickr RF
With the emergence of smartphones in the last decade, teenage sexting is increasingly common. Photo: By Nacoki ( MEDIA ARC ), Getty Images/Flickr RF

Parents of high school students, take note — more than 1 in 4 teens in a recent study admitted to texting nude photos of themselves, or “sexting.” And, in many cases, sex followed sexting.

Scientists surveyed nearly 1,000 high school students, mostly sophomores, in Houston. The results, published in the journal Pediatrics, revealed that 60 percent of the students had been asked to text a nude photo, and 28 percent said they had done it. Boys and girls were equally likely to send photos, but boys were more likely to ask for them.

The students were polled again a year later, and those who reported sexting in the first survey — regardless of their sexual activity up to that point — were 32 percent more likely to report having had intercourse the following year, compared to their non-sexting counterparts.

Interestingly, actual sex was more common than sexting among the respondents. Fifty-three percent of students in the first survey said they’d done it, and 64 percent of them had by the second survey. These rates are higher than the national averages for teen intercourse: 41 percent for sophomores and 54 percent for juniors, according to 2013 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Jeff Temple, associate professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch and lead author of the study, said teens who sexted were not more likely to report risky sexual behavior, like having unprotected intercourse or multiple partners or using drugs or alcohol before sex.

But, if parents know their kids are sexting, Temple said “they can intervene, talk about safe sex and help them make an informed choice.”

In some states, sexting teens have been prosecuted as felons under child pornography laws. California legislators have proposed bills that would treat sexting differently, punishing it with school expulsion, community service or mandatory counseling, but none passed.