Teen Sexting, Sexual Behavior, and Sexual Addiction

There’s a debate going on around the country about whether sexually explicit material in text messaging is a risk behavior for teens or simply an extension of the flirting and teasing that occurs naturally between adolescents. The results of a recent research study contribute to this ongoing conversation with information leaning toward sexting as a risk behavior.

Researchers from the University of Southern California conducted the study and found that middle school students who received a sext were 6 times more likely to report being sexually active. The survey defined a sext as a sexually suggestive text or photo sent from phone to phone between teens. The results of the study revealed that early sexual communication among middle school students is correlated with higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies. The study was recently published in the journal Pediatrics in June 2014.

Other studies have been done in the past investigating the behavior of high school students, where a correlation was drawn between sexting and increased sexual activity. However, this study specifically surveyed early adolescents to determine whether sexually explicit texting leads to risky sexual behavior. Sexual behaviors that are considered risky include sex under the influence of drugs, forced sex, high risks of sexually transmitted diseases, and the possibility of teenage pregnancy.

The study sampled 1,285 middle school students in Los Angeles, and the survey was a part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey. The students ranged in age from 10-15 years old. The researchers found that even when controlled sexting behavior, young teens who sent more than 100 sexts per day were more likely to be sexually active. In general, the results showed that 20% of students with text-capable cell phones reported receiving a sext and 5% reported sending one.

The results of the study led Lead Researcher Eric Rice to say, that a conversation about sexting and sexual behavior should occur between parents and teens as soon as their child receives their first phone. Furthermore, pediatricians, teachers, health educators, and other professionals should also discuss sexting with young adolescents because this may facilitate conversations about healthy sexual behavior. In that conversation, it’s important for adults to be honest and upfront. It’s important to explain the risk for teen sex addiction, including its nature to continue to strengthen as sexting and sexual flirtation continues.

It should be noted that texting/sexting in general has already proven to be harmful to teens. The pattern of over-texting has been a recent concern for doctors and psychologists. Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and director at Initiative on Technology believes that the excessive texting may cause a shift in the way teens develop. There’s a constant disruption in a teen’s attention from the task at hand, whatever that might be, to a text, back to his or her current activity, and back to the phone again. There’s very little ability to stay focused.

The results of the study are significant because it is information to include in the sexual health education for teens, particularly for young adolescents. Since teen pregnancy and other sexual health risks are already concerns for adolescents, knowing the correlation between sexting and increased sexual risk for teens can facilitate parenting and educating teens on appropriate and healthy sexual behavior.

Furthermore, sex addiction is also a concern for young and older teens, particularly among those who have experienced sexual abuse, whose homes tend to hide or avoid discussing sexuality, and/or who experience shame. Having to hide anything is the quintessential element of shame, which can be the beginning of a developing a sex addiction. Certainly, sexting can be an expression of that addiction.

To prevent or intervene when sexual behavior is apparent open and honest conversations about sex between parents and teens are necessary.


University of Southern California. (2014, June 30). Young teens who receive sexts are six times more likely to report having had sex. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140630094751.htm