Your Tweens Are Sexting So Expect Them To Be Sexing, Too.


Welp. There’s a new study out that says tweens are now sexting just as much as teenagers, and that this behavior may cause them to become more sexually active.

Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study looked at 420 seventh graders from urban middle schools in Rhode Island. The students, who were ages 12-14, answered yes or no questions about their sexual habits and activity, including queries like “In the last six months have you texted someone a sexual message to flirt with them?”

According to TIME,

The results revealed that 22% of the students sexted, with 17% sending text messages only and 5% sending both texts and explicit photos. More concerning, say the scientists, was that sexting was associated with a higher likelihood of sexual behaviors such as touching genitals, oral sex, and vaginal sex. According to the study authors, teens who sexted were four to seven times more likely to also partake in sexual activities. Students that admitted to sending pictures showed even higher rates of sexual activity.

Color me unsurprised. I feel like a teen or a tween who is likely to sext would also obviously be more likely to be engaging in sexual activity. It certainly doesn’t take a study to figure that out. What I do wonder about though, is the causation. Does the sexting actually cause the sexual activity? Maybe sexting is like the gateway drug to sex itself? Or maybe seeing your teenage boyfriend’s penis in a photo at first makes it less scary and intimidating when you actually see it in person.

Either way, I always feel like the way sexting is covered in the media is a bit reactionary. I wager I would probably feel differently about sexting if I had a child who was of sexting age, but anything that’s ever written about teenagers and sext seems so breathlessly hand-wringy, so automatically “OMG NO ONE UNDER THE AGE OF 18 SHOULD BE TOUCHING GENITALS BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL IMMATURE AND IRRESPONSIBLE.” I’m not saying sexting is good, but it doesn’t surprise me in any way that technology is evolving to provide teenagers with ways to express their burgeoning sexuality. Teenagers have always been interested in sex and bodies (their own and others) and that’s not going to change…ever.

Again, not saying that the rise of sexting a necessarily a GOOD development, but studies that basically prove what any parent (or person) with half of a brain could figure out—that kids who sext are more likely to be having sex—aren’t necessarily contributing much to the discourse, in my opinion. Responsible sexual behavior and responsible technological behavior are clearly something that parents need to address with their children, both teens and tweens, and starting at an early age. (Limiting and monitoring phone and internet activity is probably a good call, too. And hey, maybe this issue should be addressed in school, too!). As Eve pointed out to me, there are quite a few legal issues inherent in sexting (like the fact that it’s illegal in some states to receive photos of minors) so responsible behavior needs to be reiterated over and over again, in whatever way makes sense.

Just remember: If you don’t want your kid engaging in sexting, just send him or her this app. That will TOTALLY deter them.

Photo: Getty Images

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  • Kay_Sue

    It seems like such an obvious study would kind of fuel the whole sensationalized aspect–now they are breathlessly decrying sexting, while tacking on, “And you know tweens that sext are more likely to have S.E.X.!”

    When I was in middle school, kids had sex. It wasn’t crazy prevalent, but we actually even had a 12 year old pregnant (I lived in a town with an astronomically high teen pregnancy rate, so the fact that it was only one pregnancy is kind of shocking). And tweens in my school flirted through written notes, passed back and forth, that would probably be pretty similar (minus photos) to sexting today. Technology has just made it quicker and easier.

  • ElleJai

    By 14 I’d estimate about a third of my classmates were in some way sexually active. This is not news.

    Research has consistently proved that greater education around sex delays the age of first sexual contact. So open the damn discussion with your children, give them access to health information, discuss the emotional repercussions, teach them how to avoid being guilted, bullied or pressured into something they’re not ready for and hope like Hell it worked.

    Beyond that, provide access to birth control and teach them how to use it. The only thing worse than a sexually active 12 year old is a pregnant or diseased sexually active 12 year old.

  • EX

    12-14 year olds are teens not tweens, no? I mean,
    I guess a 12 year old could still be considered a tween but I thought 12 was typically considered the start of adolescence. When people say tween I assume they mean 9ish-12. Not that that makes this any less disturbing…

  • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

    Just, as a teacher of 11-12 year olds, I can tell you that they’re *so* little. If you’re not around that age a lot, you’re thinking, hey, I was pretty mature. But they’re not. So young! Some of them still believe in Santa at 10/11. So 11, Santa. At 12, sending pics of privates to their love interest…..Just…it does not compute. I can give 1000 examples of how emotionally immature they are. This is soooo sad to me. And yes, I know they are doing these things. And yes, I know when I was a kid there were kids who were. It’s just extremely sad to me that they just don’t get to be young for a *few* more years.

    • Rachel Sea

      It’s a continuum. In some ways they are still kids, and in some ways they are soon-to-be adults. It’s a good thing that they aren’t “young” any more years than they already are. They need to form more adult interests while they are still under parental influence so that they develop under guidance.

  • Limsky

    Of course they are sexing this is nothing new…

  • Alexandra

    Yea, I’m pretty old but I remember kids being sexually active, but not til about 13-14. I think now the media glamourizes sex for younger kids (ie: pretty little liars, etc.) and so now kids think they should be participating in these activities. God help my kids…

  • pineapplegrasss

    teenagers have sex! TALK TO YOUR KIDS! that’s all :)

  • Rachel Sea

    I don’t think those researchers remember being adolescents. When I was 11/12 my friends, and I were already talking about sex, a LOT. If we had had texting capability, all the little notes, and MASH games would have probably been electronic.

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