Younger Teens See Sexting as a Substitute for Real Sex

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A study done in a  Los Angeles middle school shows that students sending and receiving "sext" messages were more likely to be sexually active than the non-sexting students. Younger teens see sexting as a substitute for real sex.

Sexting habits, according to the study published in the journal Pediatrics, are a strong predictor of sexual activity. In comparison to students who don't sext, students sexting were 3.2 times more likely to be active sexually. Those who received sext messages were seven times more likely to be sexually active. The conclusion of the researchers was that sexting and actual sexual activity go hand in hand.

Sending and receiving messages or photos in a mobile phone that have sexual content is called sexting. Previous studies show that high school students and young adults indulging in sexting are sexually active but this is the first time that the study has been performed on younger students. 

The researchers, belonging to Los Angeles Unified School District and Sentient Research, wrote in the study, "There is a debate among researchers as to the exact relationship between sexting and sexual behavior." A few of them believe that younger kids see sexting as an alternative to sexual activity and the others say that sexting is a "part of contemporary adolescent sexual behavior".

Researchers added twenty seven questions to a survey, the Youth Behaviour Survey, which was distributed among 1,320 students from the sixth to the eighth grade and received 1,173 responses which could be used. 74% of the students owned a cellphone and 4.6 per cent admitted to sending atleast one sext and almost four times the number of students having sent a sext have received a text.

Eric Rice, assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work, said, "These findings call attention to the need to train health educators, pediatricians and parents on how best to communicate with young adolescents about sexting in relation to sexual behavior. The sexting conversation should occur as soon as the child acquires a cell phone. Our results show that excessive, unlimited and unmonitored texting seems to enable sexting".

Eric Rice suggested that parents might wish to openly monitor their young teen's cell phone, check in with them about who they are communicating with, and perhaps restrict their number of texts allowed per month.