We’ve all heard about how teenagers are bombarding each other constantly with text messages containing pictures of themselves in sexually explicit poses, a practice colloquially known as “sexting.” According to a newly-released study (pdf) from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), however, this troubling trend, well, isn’t one.
The study shows that, of the 1,560 American “youth Internet users” (ages 10 to 17) who were surveyed for the study, only 2.5 percent had “appeared in or created nude or nearly nude pictures or videos.” And that number drops to a mere 1 percent when you cut out the gratuitous “MySpace shot,” and include only images or video that show explicit nudity of any kind.
Still it would seem as though the children who do send out explicit pictures or videos of themselves either send them to a lot of people, or those pictures or video are passed around by others. Of those surveyed, 7.1 percent reported receiving nude or semi-nude images of other underage people, and 5.9 percent said they’d received sexually explicit images.
As one would presumably expect, the number of youths who sent out, or received, nude or semi-nude images was higher for older interviewees, with only one 10-year-old, one 11-year-old and zero 12-year-olds saying that they’d participated in such an exchange. That number jumped significantly for 16- and 17-year-old participants, however, with 28 and 31 percent, respectively, saying they’d either sent or received a sexually explicit image or video. Of the 39 youths who admitted that they’d appeared in or created images, 61 percent were girls, and 72 percent were either 16 or 17 years old.
Of those who admitted to appearing in nude or semi-nude images, 21 percent said they felt “very or extremely upset, embarrassed or afraid as a result.” Interestingly, the same emotional response was reported by a larger number (25 percent) of those who received such images or video.
Out of the 111 or so respondents who received nude or semi-nude photos, 28 percent said they reported doing so to a parent, teacher or the police.
In conclusion, the AAP offers some sobering words to those concerned about the true prevalence of sexting:
Sexting has been greeted in many media portrayals as yet another sign of the hypersexualization of youth and extreme risk-taking. In fact, however, many indicators of youth sexual behavior such as teenage pregnancy and the number of youth with multiple sexual partners have been improving in recent years, in spite of such concerns. It is incumbent on youth-serving professionals not to respond or abet media portrayals that promote alarm. Sexting may not indicate a dramatic change in youth risktaking or youth sexual behavior. It may just make some of that behavior more visible to adults and other authorities.”
Image via AVAVA/Shutterstock]