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Study suggests more than 20 percent of middle schoolers are sexting

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New research from the American Academy of Pediatrics indicates that more than 20 percent of middle-school-aged children have “engaged in sexting,” or sent racy photos and text of themselves to their friends. Teenagers making irrational decisions without thinking of the consequences? Well, I never.

Published in the February edition of Pediatrics, the study reported that 22 percent of middle-schoolers aged 12 to 14 had sent a racy image or text, which the researchers concluded made them four to seven times more likely to engage in “risky sexual behaviors.”

“Sexting of any kind was associated with higher rates of engaging in a variety of sexual behaviors, and sending photos was associated with higher rates of sexual activity than sending text messages only,” the report, from Brown University and the Bradley-Hasbro Children’s Research Center at the Rhode Island Hospital, found. “This was true for a range of behaviors from touching genitals over clothes to oral sex, to vaginal sex” (which, truth be told, sounds like a lot more fun than what I did in middle school).

Unsurprisingly, the study found that adolescent girls were more likely to send image-based sexts than adolescent males. Guys were more likely to request such a photo. Interestingly, the study also found that Hispanic middle schoolers were more likely to send sexually charged images than their non-Hispanic peers, though they didn’t provide any explanation for this finding.

The study ends on a somewhat alarmist note, cautioning parents to pay attention to “adolescents’ electronic communication.” Sexting “may be a marker for sexual risk behaviors that can have significant consequences, including pregnancy or disease.”

But if you’re a parent of an adolescent girl, don’t go clutching your pearls and summoning for your smelling salts just yet. The study’s pool of subjects was very small—about 70 students, who were asked to fill out a computer survey on their sexual behaviors—so there’s no reason to believe its results are all that representative of the general adolescent population at large. (More likely, it suggests how much tweens tend to exaggerate their sexual history.) So no need to flip out, parents: You probably only need to sneak into your daughter’s room and check her phone for grainy boob pics two or three times a day, max.

H/T AFRO | Photo by kalexanderson/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)