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May 2018

Adolescent Sexting Research: The Challenges Ahead

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Communication Studies, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium
  • 2Department of Communication Studies, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
  • 3Department of Communication Studies, IMEC-MICT-Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
JAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(5):405-406. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.0013

Sexting is a relatively commonplace behavior among adolescents. A study in southeast Texas found that 27.6% (259 of 964) of teenagers have sent self-made sexually explicit photographs of themselves.1 For some teenagers, sexting may be a normal part of their sexual development and experimentation.2 However, it remains an important public health issue because the behavior comes with a risk for reputational damage and has been associated with other risk-taking behaviors such as substance use, risky sexual behaviors, and cyberbullying.1,3 The field research has substantially grown during the past years. A search in the Web of Science index for the keyword “sexting” shows that in 2013, 74 articles were published on the topic. By October 2017, this body of research grew to 273 publications. Despite the boom of research activity surrounding sexting, critical aspects of the behavior have remained unexplored. To deepen our understanding of adolescents’ sexting behavior and its associated risks and to inspire education and awareness-raising initiatives, sexting research needs to focus on addressing the limitations of prior research. These issues, as well as paths for further research, are highlighted in this Viewpoint.