Sexting (sending/receiving sexually explicit texts and images via cell phone) may be associated with sexual health consequences among adolescents. However, to date, no published data from a probability-based sample has examined associations between sexting and sexual activity.
A probability sample of 1839 students was collected alongside the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey in Los Angeles high schools. Logistic regressions were used to assess the correlates of sexting behavior and associations between sexting and sexual risk-taking.
Fifteen percent of adolescents with cell phone access reported sexting, and 54% reported knowing someone who had sent a sext. Adolescents whose peers sexted were more likely to sext themselves (odds ratio [OR] = 16.87, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 9.62–29.59). Adolescents who themselves sexted were more likely to report being sexually active (OR = 7.17, 95% CI: 5.01–10.25). Nonheterosexual students were more likely to report sexting (OR = 2.74, 95% CI: 1.86–4.04), sexual activity (OR = 1.52, 95% CI: 1.07–2.15), and unprotected sex at last sexual encounter (OR = 1.84, 95% CI: 1.17–2.89).
Sexting, rather than functioning as an alternative to “real world” sexual risk behavior, appears to be part of a cluster of risky sexual behaviors among adolescents. We recommend that clinicians discuss sexting as an adolescent-friendly way of engaging patients in conversations about sexual activity, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancy. We further recommend that discussion about sexting and its associated risk behavior be included in school-based sexual health curricula.