15% of Teens Have Received ‘Sext’ Messages

December 22, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Mobile Phone | Social Media | Telecom | Youth & Gen X

Some 4% of cell-phone owning teens ages 12-17 say they have sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images of themselves to someone else via text messaging on their cellphone, and 15% say they have received such images of someone they know via text messaging, according to nationally representative research from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

As far as those with a greater predisposition to sext, the report found that older teens, those who pay their own phone bills and those who are more intense users of their mobile phone are much more likely to send and receive sexually explicit images:

  • 8% of 17-year-olds with cell phones have sent a sexually provocative image by text , and three in ten (30%) have received a nude or nearly nude image.
  • 17% of teens who pay for all of the costs associated with their cell phones send sexually suggestive images via text; just 3% of teens who do not pay for, or only pay for a portion of the cost of the cell phone, send these images.

For intense cellphone users, the phone has become such an important conduit for communication and content of all kinds that turning it off is nearly unthinkable, Pew said.

Three Sexting Scenarios

In an attempt to learn more about the condition under which sexting occurs, findings from focus groups conducted for the study showed that sexting occurs most often in one of three scenarios:

  1. Exchanges of images solely between two romantic partners.
  2. Exchanges between partners that are then shared outside the relationship.
  3. Exchanges between people who are not yet in a relationship, but where often one person hopes to be.

“Teens explained to us how sexually suggestive images have become a form of relationship currency,” said Amanda Lenhart, Pew senior research specialist and author of the report. “These images are shared as a part of or instead of sexual activity, or as a way of starting or maintaining a relationship with a significant other. And they are also passed along to friends for their entertainment value, as a joke or for fun.”

Many teens also say the often feel pressure to share these types of images, Lenhart added, noting that the desire for teen risk-taking and sexual exploration, coupled with a constant connection via mobile devices, creates a “perfect storm’ for sexting.”

A separate study, published earlier in 2009, suggested that sexting might be more widespread that Pew reports. The “Sex and Tech” survey by the The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and CosmoGirl.com found that one in five teen girls (22%), nearly as many teen boys (18%) and one-third (33%) of young adults have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude photographic or video images of themselves.

About the survey: The report is based on the findings of a land-line and cellphone-based telephone survey of teens’ and parents’ use of mobile phones, and?six focus groups conducted in three US cities in October 2009 with teens between ages 12-18. Quantitative results in the report are based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research International between June 26-September 24, 2009, among a sample of 800 teens ages 12-17 and a parent or guardian.


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