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Scores of Teens Get Sexts, but Who’s Sending?

Fifteen percent of teens in a new Pew Internet survey of 800 say they’ve received sexually suggestive or nude images or videos from others. But far fewer say they’ve sent them.

girl texting

Plenty of teens say they’ve received sexually suggestive or nude images or videos from others. But far fewer say they’ve sent them, according to the just-released study form the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Further:

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“4% of cell-owning teens ages 12-17 say they have sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images or videos of themselves to someone else via text messaging, a practice also known as ‘sexting’; 15% say they have received such images of someone they know via text message.”

Shockingly, 6% of children ages 12 to 13 said they’d received sexts. The results also included children who’d seen the messages on passed-around cell phones, a potential wake-up for parents who think they’re insulating their kids from sexts by prohibiting them from owning a phone.

The statistics jump drastically among teens age 17. Thirty percent of cell-phone owners say they’ve received the explicit messages–photos or video–while only 8% said they’d sent them.

All told, the results suggest either a small number of children are sexting multiple people or study participants weren’t owning up to embarrassing acts. Either way the report paints an ominous portrait of power plays in relationships, mostly involving girls who feel pressured by boys to share revealing photos or video of themselves. One teenage girl wrote in the report: “When I was about 14-15 years old, I received/sent these types of pictures. Boys usually ask for them or start that type of conversation. My boyfriend, or someone I really liked asked for them. And I felt like if I didn’t do it, they wouldn’t continue to talk to me. At the time, it was no big deal. But now looking back it was definitely inappropriate and over the line.”

The findings fit in with another recent study by the Associated Press and MTV, which concluded that more than 25% of 1,200 teens surveyed had sexted. The Pew study surveyed 800 teens in Denver.

The report goes further to map out just how teens are sending and receiving naughty multi-media perviness. It’s narrowed down to three methods:

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

So much for flowers and candy.

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About the author

Tyler Gray is the former Editorial Director of Fast Company and co-author of the book The Sonic Boom: How Sound Transforms the Way We Think, Feel and Buy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), out in fall 2014. He previously authored The Hit Charade for HarperCollins and has written for The New York Times, SPIN, Blender, Esquire, and others.

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