Sexting may be the new "normal" part of adolescent sexual development, scientists say. Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston found that sexting may be the new "normal" and is not strictly limited to at-risk teens.
The study indicates that sexting may precede sexual intercourse in some cases and further cements the idea that sexting behaviour is a credible sign of teenage sexual activity.
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However, researchers did not find a link between sexting and risky sexual behaviour over time, which may suggest that sexting is becoming a part of growing up.
"We now know that teen sexting is fairly common," said Jeff Temple, an associate professor and psychologist at UTMB.
"For instance, sexting may be associated with other typical adolescent behaviours such as substance use. Sexting is not associated with either good or poor mental well being," Temple said.
"Despite this growing body of knowledge, all existing sexting research looks across samples of different groups of young people at one time, rather than following the same people over time.
"Because of this, it's unclear whether sexting comes before or after someone engages in sexual activity," said Temple.
The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, are part of an ongoing six-year investigation of an ethnically diverse group of adolescent students from Southeast Texas, led by Temple. The teens in the study periodically complete anonymous surveys detailing their history of sexting, sexual activity, and other behaviours.
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Temple and a postdoctoral research fellow at UTMB, Hye Jeong Choi, examined data from the second and third years of their study to determine whether teen sexting predicted sexual activity one year later.
They found that the odds of being sexually active as high school juniors was slightly higher for youth who engaged in sexting, the previous year, compared to teens who did not sext.
The study did not find sexting to be linked with later risky sexual behaviours.