tween-sexting

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