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Study: Tweens and Teens Who Get Sexts Are Six Times as Likely to Be Sexually Active

Teens who sext are more likely to have sex early
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

It's no secret — the art of middle school flirting has definitely changed since we were kids. Gone are the days of passing intricately folded notes to your crush during English class, with the margins covered in flowers and hearts. We have entered the age of "sexting," with many tweens and teens often passing explicit or sexually provocative texts and photos back and forth at lightning speed, whenever and wherever.

But is it all just harmless flirting they're doing? Or does the actual act of sexting truly lead to sex itself? We're afraid to report, it's the latter. According to a new study led by the University of Southern California, middle schoolers who receive a sext are six times as likely to report being sexually active. These teens are also more likely to engage in risky behaviors early, including drinking and using drugs, and have a higher risk of an STD. Another sad finding: Tweens who sext often are also more likely to experience forced sex.

So when should you approach the topic with your kid? According to experts, you should do it early. In fact, you may want to bring it up right along with your birds and the bees convo. "The sexting conversation should occur as soon as your child acquires a cell phone," says study author Eric Rice, an assistant professor at USC School of Social Work.

Gulp. For many parents out there reading this, you know that age is generally very young. But there are other tactics you can employ to prevent the behavior, too.

"Our results show that excessive, unlimited or unmonitored texting seems to enable sexting," Rice said. "Parents may wish to openly monitor their young teen's cell phone, check in with them about who they are communicating with and perhaps restrict their number of texts allowed per month."

That bit of advice is definitely backed up in the data, which found that kids who texted more than 100 times a day largely unsupervised were more than twice as likely to have received a sext — and almost 4.5 times more likely to report having sent one. And of the overall number of kids who reported receiving a sext, they were 23 times more likely to have sent one in return.

Those stats differed a bit for LGBQT students, who were nine times more likely to have sent a sext, but not any more likely to be sexually active than straight students.

The study, which anonymously sampled more than 1,300 middle school students from the Los Angeles area, was part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Respondents ranged in age from 10 to 15.

But if you're looking to calm your nerves, here's something: 20 percent of the students in the survey with text-capable phones did say they had never received a sext at all, and only 5 percent of them report ever sending one.

Have you ever spoken to your tween about the risks of sexting? How did you handle it?

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