These days the disturbing new trend in teenage flirting is sending nude or semi-nude photos from cell phone to cell phone: instead of "texting," they call it called "sexting." Sexting (sex and texting) is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones and chat rooms.
The definition of sexting is defined as the act of text messaging someone in the hopes of having a sexual encounter with them later; initially casual, transitioning into highly suggestive and even sexually explicit. The term is used by adults who are out of the loop, and not by the individuals actually sending the messages.
While it may be shocking, the practice of "sexting" - sending nude pictures via text message - is not unusual, especially for high schoolers around the country. Roughly 20 percent of teens admit to participating in "sexting," according to a nationwide survey by the National Campaign to Support Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Three teenage girls who allegedly sent nude or semi-nude cell phone pictures of themselves, and three male classmates in a western Pennsylvania high school who received them, have been charged with child pornography. "This is a serious felony. They could be facing many years in prison," CBS News legal analyst Lisa Bloom said of the six teens in Pennsylvania.
Teenagers are saying the media is making sexting out to be something so horrible that all kids could face sexual assualt charges, when it is all done in fun. However, news reports are increasingly documenting legal repercussions after indecent photo appear online. And attorneys say there are many unanswered questions about whether young people who send their own photos could face prosecution for obscenity.
Sexting doesn't stop with teenagers. Young adults are even more likely to have sexted; one-third of them said they had been involved in sexting, compared with about one-quarter of teenagers.
The dangerous combination of teenagers behaving provocatively and impulsively is not new, but the accessibility to the technology is. With cell phone cameras, they have been handed a tool so easy to use for some it's impossible to pass up.
Criminal charges aren't the worst consequences. In at least two cases, sexting has been linked to suicide. Last year in Cincinnati, 18-year-old Jessica Logan hanged herself after weeks of ridicule at school; she had sent a nude cell phone picture to her boyfriend, and after they broke up, he forwarded the picture to other girls.
In another incident 13-year-old Hope Witsell hanged herself, after relentless taunting at her school near Tampa, Fla. She had sent a nude photo of herself to a boy she liked, and another girl used his phone to send the picture to other students who forwarded it along. The St. Petersburg Times first reported on Hope's death this week.
"There's definitely the invincibility factor that young people feel," said Kathleen Bogle, a sociology professor at La Salle University in Philadelphia and author of the book "Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus."
In Rochester, N.Y., a 16-year-old boy is now facing up to seven years in prison for forwarding a nude photo of a 15-year-old girlfriend to his friends.
If your children have sent any nude pictures of themselves, make sure they stop immediately. Explain that they're at risk of being charged with producing and distributing child pornography. If they've received a nude photo, make sure they haven't sent it to anyone else.
Sexting and pornography or music video viewing among adolescents: Is there a link?
Are adolescents who view pornography or music videos more likely to engage in sexting, in which they share sexually explicit content via text, photo, or video using cell phones, email, or social networking sites?
A study of the media consumption and sexting behavior of more than 300 teens is published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers.
In "The Associations Between Adolescents' Consumption of Pornography and Music Videos and Their Sexting Behavior," authors Joris Van Ouytsel, MSc, Koen Ponnet, PhD, and Michel Walrave, PhD, University of Antwerp, Belgium, determined whether viewing pornography or watching music videos was predictive of sexting among adolescents, involving sending or receiving sexually explicit text messages, pictures, or videos. They found a statistically significant link between pornography and sexting for both boys and girls.
"The results found in this study may be useful to consider during both prevention and treatment," says Editor-in-Chief Brenda K. Wiederhold, PhD, MBA, BCB, BCN, Interactive Media Institute, San Diego, California and Virtual Reality Medical Institute, Brussels, Belgium.
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