So indicates a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, which found that roughly a quarter of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 14 are avid sexters—and much more likely to engage in sexual behavior than those who don’t exchange suggestive messages on their mobile phones. Of the 420 students who participated in the study, 22 percent said they had sexted—loosely defined as having “texted someone a sexual message to flirt with them”—in the past six months.
Before we commence the heavy, panicked breathing, let’s not forget that the study’s teenage participants are the ones defining what constitutes a sexual message. In response to the more specific question of sending sexual photos—a reasonably rigid definition—only five percent said they had (and we’re trusting that they actually had).
Even if the study is accurate, do these numbers really indicate a crisis? Not when we cross-examine them with teen pregnancy rates, which have dropped to record lows since they peaked in 1990, according to a December report from the CDC. Despite this improvement, we’re still panicked about hypersexualization in pop culture and young people using technology to bypass sexual barriers.
But society’s moral panic rarely reflects reality. Surveying recent trends in teen sex, the Chicago Tribune observed that “the picture we get is not the raunchy abandon so often depicted in popular culture. It's one of growing awareness of the downside of sex, more willingness to postpone it, and taking measures to prevent it from causing pregnancy.”
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