Study finds teen ‘sexting’ more prevalent than previously thought

     (Kim Paynter/WHYY)

    (Kim Paynter/WHYY)

    A new study indicates that more teens are “sexting” to a greater degree that researchers previously understood.

    In a survey of college students, more than half said they had sent — or received — sexually explicit text messages when they were teenagers or adolescents.

    “That figure of 54 percent is by far the highest figure that’s been reported in the research literature,” said study author David DeMatteo. “Our study was anonymous, so people could freely report this behavior without any fear that it would be attached to them. And it was also retrospective — we were asking people to report on their prior sexting history from when they were under the age of 18.”

    Most of the time, the texts were written messages, but 28 percent of surveyed students said the texts included an explicit photo.

    In some ways, you might think of sexting as an extension of normal teen exploration.

    “On the other hand, this type of technology has the potential to be misused. It has the potential to be shared — that’s where parents, educators and policymakers get very concerned,” said DeMatteo, an associate professor of psychology and law at Drexel University.

    Most students surveyed said they were not aware of the legal troubles that can come with underage sexting.

    “If someone receives a sext that includes a picture — and it’s a picture of someone who’s underage in a nude or semi state — and you share that picture, depending on the jurisdiction, you could possibly be prosecuted for child pornography,” DeMatteo said.

    Pennsylvania has sexting-specific laws allowing milder penalties for minors. New Jersey is considering similar legislation.

    The study was published online by the forum “Sexuality Research and Social Policy.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.