Guess what, people are more likely to sext or receive sexts if they have smartphones. Yes, somehow sexts aren’t quite the same with a rotary phone or semaphore flags. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics revealed that sexting (which is the electronic sharing of sexually explicit images, videos, or messages) has increased among teenagers since 2009. Oh, and the number of teenagers with smartphones has also increased since 2009. Coincidence?
The study found that about 1 in 7 (or 14.8%) of those between the ages of 12 and 17 had sent sexts and approximately 1 in 4 (27.4%) have received them. Hmm, sounds like not all sexting is being reciprocated. More on this later. These numbers are significantly higher than those from a 2009 Pew Research Center study that revealed that 4% and 15% of 12 to 17 year olds had sent and received sexts, respectively.
For the JAMA Pediatrics study, a team from the University of Calgary (Sheri Madigan, PhD, Anh Ly, MA, and Christina L. Rash, BA), the Universiteit Antwerpen (Joris Van Ouytsel, PhD), and The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (Jeff R. Temple, PhD) searched the publication databases MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE, and Web of Science for studies on sexting published between January 1990 to June 2016. They ultimately collected 39 studies that fit their criteria. Combined, the assembled studies totaled 110,380 study subjects with an average age of 15.16 years and an age range of 11.9 to 17.0 years. The research team then pooled data from all of these studies to then perform a number of different statistical analyses. Interestingly, the researchers saw no significant difference between the percentages of males and females who had sent or received sexts. However, they did find that a teenager’s likelihood of sending or receiving a sext increased with his or her age. And surprise, the researchers found that there was a fair amount of non-consensual sexting occurring with 12.0% forwarding a sext without consent and 8.4% receiving a sext forwarded without consent.
Are these numbers really that surprising? The study authors indicated that the observed increases in sexting since 2009 corresponded to increases in smartphone ownership among teens. According to Influence Central’s 2016 Digital Trends Study, the average age at which kids get their first smartphone is now 10.3 years old. Keep in mind that this is the average age, meaning that there kids 8 years and younger with their own smartphones. The average age is almost 4 years younger than when Bill Gates’ children got their own smartphones, according to the Mirror. (Presumably cost was not the reason Gates waited until his children reached 14 years of age or high school to get them smartphones.) According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 73% of teens have access to a smartphone. A Nielsen report determined that 45% of 10-12 years old kids in the U.S. have smartphones with their own service plans.
Before you say, “kids these days,” keep in mind that these sexting numbers for kids are still well below those for adults. A MacAfee survey showed that about half of adults had “used their mobile device to share or receive intimate content.” The same survey found that 16% had sent intimate to complete strangers. Yes, complete strangers. A study presented in 2015 at the American Psychological Association’s 123rd Annual Convention yielded even higher numbers: 88% of study participants reported ever having sexted and 82% reported they had sexted in the past year. Moreover, stories of celebrity sexting have become relatively common. For example, as Lydia Price for People described, actress Anna Faris and now ex-husband Chris Pratt used to have sex-text-Wednesdays. This practice ended after Faris accidentally sent a sext to her dad: “I can’t wait to see you in bed tonight.” With sexting so prevalent among adults, it’s no surprise that teens are following suit. “Do as I say rather than do as I do” can be a bunch of doo-doo.
In fact, the JAMA Pediatric study results probably underestimate the percentage of teens who sext. It’s not as if many people are willing to stand up and declare to everyone, “I’m sexting and I know it.” The study authors felt that nearly twice as many teens reported receiving sexts than sending sexts because many may not readily admit that they sent sexts. It is easier to admit that you were just hanging out, minding your own business when lo and behold, look what arrived on your phone.
So, if you are going to give your teen a smartphone, there’s a reasonable chance that he or she will consider sending or receive sexts or both. As they say, denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. Therefore, you may want to have an open conversation about sexting and its potential risks right when your teen may get a smartphone. Risks include:
Sexts being forwarded over and over again: Many teens can keep a secret as well as a sieve can hold water. Moreover, as most adults know, “forever” in a teen relationship can mean just for the next 3 days, for the next few hours, or even until the next commercial break. No matter how close a relationship seems at the time, once a break-up occurs “secrets” such as sexts can all become social media fodder.
Bullying and harassment: Smartphones can allow people to say whatever they want without having to see the recipient’s face. Also, other kids can hold a compromising sext or picture as hostage, threatening to release it if you don’t do what they say.
Boundaries being pushed: Some may use sexts to test how far you are willing to go.
Really bad mistakes: It’s become way too easy to send the wrong message to the wrong person. Autocorrect doesn’t always help and can even hurt (note the number of times autocorrect tries to add an extra “t”to the word “but”)
Destroying your reputation: It only takes one sext or one picture to sink what you have spent years trying to build.
A false sense of closeness and security: Texting can make you feel close to someone when you really aren’t. You can’t see the other person’s body language or context or how many other people that person is texting at the same time.
A messed up view of relationships: Some day, two people will get married and exchange vows via texting. But texting and other electronic exchanges should never replace direct human-to-human interactions.
There may even be legal ramifications as this WXYZ-TV Detroit explains:
With all of these risks, the first conversation about sexting should probably not be via the smartphone.