‘Sexting’ is the sharing of sexual messages and other content, including photos, online. One in seven young people are sending sexts, and one in four are receiving them, according to a 2018 worldwide analysis. And the practice continues to rise in popularity.
Sexting has been an area of concern for parents globally, worried about their children’s security and privacy. Now, a new analysis shows there are connections between sexting, sexual behaviours and risk factors for mental health.
The analysis was a review of the available evidence around sexting and its harms in the medical literature. It looked at young people with an average age of 14. Just over half of the people involved were female, and all of the studies used self-reported survey data.
The researchers were looking at the links between sexting and a range of outcomes such as sexual activity, contraceptive use, having sex with multiple partners, and delinquent behaviour.
There were a number of interesting findings.
Young people who sexted were much more likely to be involved in other sexual activity – more than three times the chance.
They were more likely to have had multiple sexual partners, and they were less likely to use contraception. There were also links between sexting and alcohol use, drug use and smoking.
The authors make the point that sexual activity and sexual exploration are not inherently dangerous, and often a normal part of growing up.
But they also flag that sexting is associated with other risky behaviours, and that younger teenagers may not be well equipped to deal with the risks sexting presents.
Young teens are less likely to get tested for STIs and may also be at risk for teen pregnancy.
The authors say that this paper is evidence that more work needs to be done to educate young people about the benefits and risks of being a digital citizen in the 21st century.