Sexting Most Common Among Older Teens

    December 15, 2009

New research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that 4 percent of cell phone owners ages 12 to 17 have sent sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images of themselves to someone else on a cell phone.

Pew found 15 percent of teens that age have received this kind of image of someone they know personally on their cell phone. Sexting was most common among older teens with 8 percent of 17-year-old cell-owners saying they have sent suggestive images of themselves by text while only 4 percent of 12-year-olds have.

Pew found that sexting occurs most often in one of three scenarios:

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

"Teens explained to us how sexually suggestive images have become a form of relationship currency," said Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist and author of the report.

"These images are shared as a part of or instead of sexual activity, or as a way of starting or maintaining a relationship with a significant other. And they are also passed along to friends for their entertainment value, as a joke or for fun."


The report also found that teens who are more active users of cell phones are more likely to receive sexually suggestive images. Teens with unlimited text messaging plans, 75 percent of cell phone owning teens, are more likely to receive texts containing images of people they know.

Among this group, 18 percent reported receiving these images, compared with 8 percent of teens on limited plans and 3 percent of teens who pay per message. In addition, teens who keep their phones on almost all the time are more likely than others to receive texts with suggestive images.

"The desire for risk-taking and sexual exploration during the teenage years combined with a constant connection via mobile devices creates a ‘perfect storm’ for sexting," said Lenhart.

"Teenagers have always grappled with issues around sex and relationships, but their coming-of-age mistakes and transgressions have never been so easily transmitted and archived for others to see."

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