UTHealth researchers report prevalence of sexting among minority youth

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HOUSTON – (March 6, 2013) – Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have found that up to 30 percent of minority youths reported sending or receiving “sexts,” which are sexually explicit messages sent through technology including photos, videos and text-only messages.

“Although sexting is relatively common among youth and there has been a lot of attention about sexting in the media, there hasn’t been much about sexting among ethnic minority youth,” said lead investigator Melissa Fleschler Peskin, Ph.D., assistant professor of behavioral science and epidemiology at The University of Texas School of Public Health, part of UTHealth.

The study was published in a recent online issue of “Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.” Peskin and colleagues analyzed information collected from more than 1,000 tenth graders from a large, urban school district in southeast Texas who took self-interview surveys on computers.

According to the report, more than 20 percent of students reported sending nude or semi-nude pictures or videos or sexually explicit text messages. More than 30 percent of participants reported receiving a sext. Half of the students who participated in sexting behaviors reported sending and receiving sexually suggestive text-only messages and nude or semi-nude photos. Researchers believe this overlap in sexting behavior has not been previously reported.

Black males and females were more likely than Hispanic males to participate in some sexting behaviors. Hispanic females reported the lowest rates of sexting.

Additionally, almost 10 percent of participants said they had sent a sext to an unintended recipient, and 20 percent reported having a sext shared with them.

“The first step we try to do with any new trend when there is a potential issue or health concern is to understand the extent and prevalence of the issue so we can understand whether a population, in this case one that has not previously been studied, is also engaging in the behavior,” Peskin said. “Now that we understand more about the extent of the issue, we can then go to the next step, which is to determine what potential negative, or positive, outcomes are associated with the behavior.”

Peskin believes more studies are needed to determine if sexting impacts other behaviors and health outcomes among youth.

Senior author was Susan Tortolero, Ph.D., director of the Center for Health Promotion & Prevention Research at the UT School of Public Health. Other UTHealth authors included Christine Markham, Ph.D., Robert Addy, Ph.D., Ross Shegog, Ph.D. and Melanie Thiel, M.P.H. The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (5U48DP000057) and Adolescent Family Life (90XF0036).

Stephanie Logue
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