Participants ranged in age from 14 to 19 (Mean=15.8), and were in either the 10th or 11th grade. Of the participants, 55.9% were female, and the race/ethnicity of the analyzed sample was 26.6% African American, 30.3% Caucasian, and 31.7% Hispanic.
A sizeable minority of teens (n=259; 27.6%) reported having sent a naked picture of themselves through text or email (sext). There was no significant difference between boys (27.8%) and girls (27.5%) in the proportion of teens who reported having sent a sext (). However, girls (68.4%) more often reported having been asked to send a sext, compared to boys (42.1%, p<.001). Boys were significantly (p<.001) more likely than girls to report having asked someone for a sext (46% and 21%, respectively). As demonstrated in , of those who had been asked to send a sext, girls more often reported being bothered by the request. For example, whereas 27% of girls reported being bother a great deal, only 3% of boys endorsed this option (p<.001).
Gender differences in sexting behaviors
As shown in , the proportion of teens who had been asked to send a sext and who had actually sent a sext differed by race/ethnicity, with White/non Hispanic and African American teens more likely than the other racial/ethnic groups to have both been asked and to have sent a sext.
Sexting behaviors by race/ethnicity, age, and parental education level.
There were also differences across age in the proportion of teens who were asked to send a sext (p=.0002), who sent a sext (p=.003), and who were bothered (at least a little) by being asked to send a sext (p=.04). Older teens were more likely to have sent a sext, and were less likely to have been bothered by being asked to send a sext. The proportion of teens who reported having been asked to send a sext appeared to peak at 16 and 17 years of age (61.5% and 60.4%, respectively), then declined in those aged 18 and older (53.3%).
Parental education level was significantly associated only with teens’ reports of having asked for a sext; adolescents with parents who had a high school education or less were more likely to have asked for a sext (p=.004).
Dating, sex, and sexting
Of the current sample, 93% of girls and 90% of boys have started dating, with 51.1% of girls and 54.6% of boys reporting a history of sexual intercourse. Of those reporting a history of sexual intercourse, boys (52%) were slightly more likely than girls (43%) to report having sex with more than one partner in the previous year (p=.05). With respect to using substances before sex, no differences emerged between boys and girls (37% and 32%, respectively).
Among girls, there was a significant association between all sexting behaviors and all dating, sex, and risky sex behaviors (). The prevalence of having started dating, having had sex, having multiple sex partners, and using alcohol or other drugs before sex were all higher among those who have sent, received, or asked for a sext than among those who had not engaged in those sexting behaviors. For example, among girls who had not sent a sext, 42.0% reported having sex, whereas among those who had sent a sext, 77.4% reported having sex (p<.0001). In addition, nearly all of the girls who were not at all bothered by having been asked to send a sext also reported that they have had sex (95.7%), whereas a smaller percentage of those who were bothered to some degree reported that they have had sex (44.9%–71.4%; p<.0001).
Association between dating, risky sexual behaviors and sexting behaviors among girls.
For boys, having sent a sext and having asked for a sext were each associated with dating and having had sex (). For example, 81.8% of boys who sent a sext reported that they have had sex before, whereas only 45.4% of boys who had never sent a sext reported that they have had sex (p<.0001). However, there was no significant association between having sent or received a sext and having multiple sex partners or using alcohol or other drugs before sex. There were significant associations between having been asked to send a sext and all dating and sexual behaviors. For instance, of those who reported that someone had asked them to send a sext, 76.2% have had sex, whereas of those who reported not having been asked to sext, only 38.2% have had sex before (p<.0001).
Association between dating, risky sexual behaviors and sexting behaviors among boys.