Is Sexting Growing More Popular Among Today’s Teens?

Cropped shot of a group of friends using their phones together outdoorsAbout 27% of adolescents receive sexts from their peers, a meta-analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics has found. Sexts are sexually explicit messages sent over phones or computers. Sexting can take the form of videos, photos, or text. The meta-analysis found no consistent gender differences in sexting participation.

Sexting Increasingly Common Among Teens

The meta-analysis included 39 prior studies on sexting among teenagers younger than 18. The studies included a total of 110,380 participants. On average, 14.8% of participants reported sending sexts, and 27.4% reported receiving them. Twelve percent said they had forwarded a sext without permission. Over 8% reported having sexts forwarded without their consent.

The meta-analysis found the prevalence of sexting has increased over time. Sexting becomes more common as teens get older. Sexts are more likely to be sent through mobile devices than computers.

Data on gender differences in sexting showed no consistent trends. Some studies found girls send more sexts, while others found boys receive and request more sexts. Other studies found no gender differences at all.

How Does Sexting Affect Teens?

Research on sexting among adults is mixed. A 2015 study correlated sexting with increased relationship satisfaction. A 2017 study found sexting might not affect relationships at all.

Teen sexting remains even more controversial. Some people argue sexting is a normal part of modern relationships. Others fear teens may not fully understand the risks of sexting, such as the fact that once they send a photo to someone else, they no longer control who sees the image. Other teens may not understand the ethical and legal implications of showing a photo to their friends without the consent of the person in the photo.

An editorial accompanying the study says researching sexting is difficult because of an inconsistent use of terms across studies. Previous studies have found sexting prevalence rates ranging from 5% to more than 44%.

The editorial points to avenues for future research:

“…[sexting] has demonstrated a unique ability to catalyze adult anxiety when children and adolescents engage in it,” the editorial says. “Yet there is not a great deal of research examining sexting, its prevalence, its causes, and its repercussions.”

Teens experiencing bullying due to sexting can get help from a school counselor. If an adult is exchanging sexts with a minor, authorities should be notified.


  1. Englander, E. & McCoy, M. (2018, February 26). Sexting—prevalence, age, sex, and outcomes. JAMA Pediatrics. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.5682
  2. Madigan, S., Ly, A., Rash, C. L., Ouytsel, J. V., & Temple, J. R. (2018). Prevalence of multiple forms of sexting behavior among youth. JAMA Pediatrics. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.5314

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