Sexting — the practice of sharing sexually explicit images and videos of yourself or messages online or through smartphone apps — is on the rise among teenagers.
That’s according to new research published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, for which analysts conducted a meta-analysis of 39 existing studies involving 110,380 participants ages 12 to 18.
The study found that nearly 15 percent of teens had sent a sext and approximately 27 percent received one. There were no significant sex differences in the rate of sending or receiving sexts.
The research also showed that teens are more likely to send or receive texts as they age, “which lends credence to the notion that youth sexting may be an emerging, and potentially normal, component of sexual behavior and development,” researchers said.
Study authors added that the increasing prevalence of smartphones may be related to the rise in sexting.
Children are now given their first smartphone around age 10 and if smartphone ownership gets younger, researchers believe sexting will continue to rise among teens.
"If you find out your child is sexting, understand it's a fairly normative behavior; it doesn't mean your kid is deviant or in a life of crime," study co-author Jeff Temple told the Chicago Tribune. "It means they're interested in their sexuality and sex."
Still, the study revealed a few troublesome findings. Twelve percent of teens reported they forwarded sexts to someone without permission from the original sender — and approximately 8 percent said they received a sext without consent.
“If we look at things like sexual behavior with teens, if it’s consensual and both teens wanted it and are okay with it, you are not going to see the negative psychological health,” Jeff Temple told CNN. “If it was nonconsensual or coerced, that is where you see the negative mental health problems, and we see the same thing with sexting.”
The rate of nonconsensual sexting among younger youth is concerning, authors wrote, urging experts and policymakers to make this a primary concern.
In some states (including Georgia), the act of sending nude photos of people under age 18, even among consenting teens, is illegal.
According to the Washington Post, a bill in Virginia aimed at reclassifying the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor is making its way through the state’s legislature.