texting, sexting

Sexting Linked to Increased Sexual Activity and Substance Abuse Among Teenagers

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
texting, sextingCamille Mori, B.A. (hons)
M.Sc. candidate
Clinical Psychology Program
Determinants of Child Development Lab
University of Calgary 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: Sexting, which is the sharing of sexual messages, images, or videos over technological devices, has recently become a cause for concern among parents, teachers, and policy makers. However, the research on sexting among youth is still in early stages, and evidence of the risks associated with sexting is inconsistent. One way to resolve discrepancies in the field is to conduct a meta-analysis, which statistically summarizes existing research. We conducted a meta-analysis in order to examine the association between sexting and sexual activity (having sex, multiple sexual partners, and lack of contraception use). The associations between sexting and mental health related variables, including delinquent behaviour, substance use, and depression/anxiety were also examined.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings? 

Response: Our meta-analysis included 23 studies with 41,723 participants aged 12-17. We found that youth who sexted were almost 4 times as likely to have sex as youth who did not sext, were 5 times as likely to have had multiple sexual partners, and were twice as likely to have not used contraception. When assessing mental health related factors, we found that youth who sexted were almost twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, were 2.5 times more likely to engage in delinquent behaviour, and were 3.5 times more likely to use alcohol and drugs. These associations tended to be stronger among younger youth.

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

 Response: Sexuality is a normal part of adolescent development, and sexting may be a normative occurrence within the developmental process. While results of our study highlight the risks associated with sexting, they do not suggest that sexting causes engagement in sexual activity, nor do they reveal that sexting is the cause of negative mental health. If an adolescent is sexting, it may be a sign that a conversation, rather than a punishment, is warranted.   

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work? 

Response: A key recommendation for future research is to adopt a consistent operational definition of sexting that considers the context, content, and format of sexting. Context refers to whether the sext is being sent, received, forwarded, or requested. It also refers to the relationship within which the sexting occurs, and the consensual or nonconsensual nature of the sext. Content refers to whether the sext includes text, images, or videos, and the format of the sext refers to the technological medium over which the sext is sent. 

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Technology is a tool that can be used in both positive and negative ways. Our research highlights the importance of educating youth on how to integrate technology into their lives in a way that is informed, safe, respectful, and consensual.  


Mori C, Temple JR, Browne D, Madigan S. Association of Sexting With Sexual Behaviors and Mental Health Among Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. Published online June 17, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.1658


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Last Updated on June 28, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD