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Sexting study: Los Angeles kids who sext are seven times more likely to have sex

A cellphone user texts on a Samsung phone.
A cellphone user texts on a Samsung phone.
Photo by Lorianne DiSabato via Flickr Creative Commons

OMG, hold the phone.

A new study published in the October issue of "Pediatrics" magazine has concluded that the practice of children texting sexually explicit words and/or pictures (aka "sexting") can be linked to actual teen sex. Likewise, those kids whose friends sext are more likely to sext themselves.

One of the researchers, Dr. Eric Rice from USC's School of Social Work, told KPCC Monday that his team spent two years on the study. Dr. Rice noted that the study does not conclude that the virtual shenanigans leads to physical activity, merely that sexting and real sex went hand-in-hand.

"Of teens who said they sext, 78 percent of them said they were sexually active. Among those who don't sext, only 38 percent say they were sexually active," Rice said, explaining how they concluded that kids who sext are seven times more likely to have sex. Simply put, Rice added, "if you sext, your friends also sext. And if you sext you are also probably sexually active."

The study included information garnered from 1,839 Los Angeles high school students last year. Surveys were collected alongside the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey in what Dr. Rice called "a wonderful partnership with [the Los Angeles Unified School District]", specifically LAUSD's Timothy Kordic.

The men began the study "a couple of years ago because of [Kordic's] strong desire to work on issues related to sexual health with teens at LAUSD," Rice said. 

Rice, an Assistant Professor at USC, said he hoped the study and subsequent article will help parents talk to their kids about sex and sexting, but not to panic by his findings.

"It can be as easy as saying 'did you hear about this news story? What do you think about that?'" Rice said. "Use that as a dialogue to talk to teens about their hopes and fears about sexual health."

Harmony Rhoades, Hailey Winetrobe, Monica Sanchez, Jorge Montoya, Aaron Plant, Rice and Kordic also suggested that the topic of sexting be part of the dialogue between doctors and their patients. They also would like to see sexting be included in health education in school. 

"We recommend that clinicians discuss sexting as an adolescent-friendly way of engaging patients in conversations about sexual activity, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, and unwanted pregnancy. We further recommend that discussion about sexting and its associated risk behavior be included in school-based sexual health curricula," the researchers wrote.