Sexting: How it affects sexual behavior among teens


As technology changes and expands, how we relate to each other changes too. One of the biggest examples of this is the rising trend of sexting among teens. Recent studies have looked into the role of sexting on a teen’s sexual activity, risky sexual behavior, substance abuse patterns and even their mental health. Most studies find that sexting has no influence or indicator on a teen’s mental health but does, however, provide indicators into their sexual activity.

Sexting, a combination of “sex” and “texting,” is normally defined as sending sexually explicit messages or photographs via text message. The act of sexting is becoming more common among adults as well as adolescents. At least 15 to 28 percent of adolescents have participated in sexting with the numbers rising in college students and young adults. The growing numbers of people sexting may indicate not only that it is becoming a societal norm, but also that it may actually be becoming a normal part of a teen’s sexual development.

A study done by researchers Jeff Temple and HyeJeong Choi at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, the “Longitudinal Association between Teen Sexting and Sexual Behavior,” examines the relationship between sexting and teenage sexual behavior. The study found not only that sexting is becoming a normal activity among teens but also that it may be an indicator into a teen’s sexual behavior.

The study examined 964 students with an average age of 16 starting in 2011 and going until 2012. Students were asked about their sexual activity and sexting history which included sending, asking for or being asked for a nude picture.

The results of the study found that those teens that had sent a sext in the first part of the study were 1.32 times more likely to be sexually active compared to those who had not sent a sext. However, contrary to previous studies, sexting was not associated with risky sexual behavior which includes having unprotected sex, having a number of sexual partners within the past year and using drugs or alcohol before having sex.

Additionally, the study found that those teens who asked for a sext from someone else were more likely to send a sext of themselves. Those teens who had been asked for a sext were also much more likely to have sent a sext.

The final aspect of the connection between sexting and sexual behavior that the study examined was the “chicken or the egg” question, that is, the question of which came first – sexting or sex?

Researchers found that sexting may precede sexual intercourse in some cases which falls in with previous assertions that sexting can serve as a gateway to sexual behavior. Along with this, other studies have found that 38 percent of college-age participants admitted that sexting increased the likelihood of “hooking up” with another person, while a different study added that sexting was often used to initiate sex.

The conclusions from Temple, Choi and other researchers’ studies includes the following:

  • Sexting can preclude sex in some cases
  • Sexting can also be an indicator of adolescent sexual behavior
  • Sexting is not actually related to risky sexual behavior which may mean that sexting is becoming a normal part of adolescent sexual development

Understanding the changes in the sexual development of adolescents and teens is an important part of helping them to grow into healthy adults. This includes understanding how technology and cell phones factor into their development. However, if you feel your adolescent has developed a compulsion beyond normal cell phone use, facilities such as White River Academy treat behavioral health issues such as cell phone compulsions. Visit for more information.

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