Study Says Sexting Risky, But Most Teens Know Better


Girl Texting

Many teens know that once they send a suggestive message via text, it can be hard to take it back. Photo: Anna Cooperberg

Jennifer Vasquez, a 14-year-old freshman at The High School of Fashion Industries in Chelsea, is a self-proclaimed “good girl” who doesn’t sext. But, Vasquez said a lot of teens do.

“It’s not a bad thing, sexting, but watch out,” said Vasquez.

Sexting is sending and receiving provocative messages via text, or sometimes sending explicit photos. In September, the medical journal “Pediatrics” published the first study to look at the sexual health consequences of sexting among teens between the ages of 12 and 18, and found that sexting was associated with real-life risky sexual behavior. The study also reported that 15 percent of teens sexted, while 54 percent said they knew someone who sexted. In its conclusion, the study’s authors stated, “Sexting, rather than functioning as an alternative to ‘real world’ sexual risk behavior, appears to be part of a cluster of risky sexual behaviors among adolescents.”

After the final bell rang at The High School of Fashion Industries, students clustered on the 24th Street sidewalk outside the school’s doors. Most of them immediately pulled out their cell phones and switched them on. “They don’t allow you to use phones in the building,” said Vasquez. Students don’t text in class, but after school, messages fly.

Amy Paguay, another freshman, said sexting occurs “when a girl gets comfortable with a guy,” but added, “girls that respect themselves don’t sext as much. No good comes out of it.”

Paguay spoke from experience. One of her friends sent nude images to a boy she was interested in, only to have the boy post the images online. “She was cyberbullied by a lot of people,” said Paguay.

Andrea Vazzana, a clinical assistant professor at the Departments of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychiatry at the NYU Child Study Center, said that sexting has long-term consequences. “Adolescence is definitely a time when teens are more susceptible to peer pressure and we know that… the majority of people in the age group who have sexted felt coerced to do so,” said Vazzana. “There are signs that they have regretted the behavior afterwards.”

Alexandra Raccio, a freshman at Fordham University, said pressure after sexting could lead girls to consent to physical relationships. “You don’t want to be known as a liar or tease, so you might be pressured to act on it, ‘making good’ on your offer,” she said.

Raccio added that boys expect girls to act on their suggestive texts, and said, “You might regret it immediately after, but you might be committed.”

Dissemination of images or  explicit messages is a big issue. Miguel, who declined to give his last name, is a freshman at John Jay College of Criminal Justice dating a ninth grader at The High School of Fashion Industries.

“I think sexting is wrong because if you forward it, you don’t know what the person you’re forwarding it to could do with it, or if an adult found it they could report it,” he said.

He didn’t sext with his girlfriend for this reason, but her parents recently took her phone away because she was always texting, so it’s no longer an issue.

Bill Albert, chief program officer at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (TNC), said, “Part of the challenge here is helping young people understand the distinction between what should probably be private, and what should be public.” A 2008 survey of 653 teens released by TNC and showed that 75 percent of teens said that sending sexually suggestive content, whether in text or photo form, “can have serious negative consequences.” Repercussions of sexting are on teens’ minds, but Albert said, “It’s very difficult to change your mind, if not impossible, in cyberspace. Anything you send or post will never really go away.”

As the father of an 18 year-old boy, he said that parents are more influential than they think. “It’s a scary and uncomfortable topic, but what they say matters,” said Albert, “[Parents] want to be concerned about things that might lead to a more casual, less responsible hookup culture.”

Albert urged parents not to panic about sexting and other potentially risky behaviors. “Not to in any ways suggest that the sky is falling, that every teenager in America is doing this, but to say, it’s not uncommon. It would be good to talk to your sons and daughters about what you consider appropriate behavior.”