Researchers at the University of Utah in the US found that nearly 20 per cent teens admitted to have been engaged in sexting, which is defined as sending nude or seminude photos, or sexually explicit text messages.
In the study, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, the researchers led by Donald Strassberg defined sexting as sending sexually explicit photos and included freshmen through seniors in high school.
They surveyed 606 students from a private high school in the US Southwest, asking them about their experiences sexting and their understanding of the consequences if caught. They also indicated their views on sending sexually explicit photos over cellphones.
Nearly 20 per cent of participants (18 per cent of male and 17 per cent female students) reported having sent a sexually explicit image via their cellphone, with nearly twice as many saying they had received such a cellphone picture. And while nearly 50 per cent of male students had received a sext, only 31 per cent of females reported the same.
Of those receiving such a picture, about 25 per cent said they had forwarded the sexy photo to others. The photo wasn't necessarily one of the sender, with more than eight per cent of participants saying they had sent a sexually explicit photo that they took of someone else to a third party, with guys (11.8 per cent) more likely than gals (4.5 per cent) to have done so, the researchers found.
They also found that only one-third of the students were aware of serious legal and other consequences of sexting. Currently, sexting laws differ by state to state, but the team noted that in many states, those sending or receiving nude pictures of someone under 18 risk charges as serious as possession or distributing child pornography.
"These results argue for educational efforts such as cellphone safety assemblies, awareness days, integration into class curriculum and teacher training, designed to raise awareness about the potential consequences of sexting among young people," the researchers concluded.