New Technologies Lead to Troublesome Trends

Dec 23, 2008

Many teens and young adults are using new technologies to send sexually suggestive messages and images, which often end up being shared with people for whom they were not intended. One in five teen girls, one in ten younger teen girls age 13 to 16, and one in three adults age 20 to 26 have electronically sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves. Even more young people (39 percent of teens, and 59 percent of young adults) have sent or posted sexually suggestive text, email or IM (instant messages).

The sexually suggestive content is often shared more widely than the sender intended. Thirty-three percent of teen boys and 25 percent of teen girls say someone has shared with them nude or semi-nude images that were meant to be private.

These findings are from a new online survey, “Sex and Tech,” commissioned by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and It finds that 51 percent of teen girls say pressure from a guy is a reason girls send sexy messages or images, while 18 percent of teen boys said pressure from a girl is a reason. Twelve percent of teen girls who have sent sexually suggestive messages or images said they felt “pressured” to do so.

Teens and young adults do not always send sexually suggestive content only to their boyfriends/girlfriends. One in five teen girls (21 percent) and two in five teen boys (39 percent) say they have sent sexually suggestive material to someone they wanted to date or hook up with.

Teens are often the first to utilize new technologies such as social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, cell phones with cameras and video recorders, instant messaging, text messaging and email. Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), which conducted the study, estimates that 90 percent of teens and young adults are online. These technological advances present challenges for parents, teachers, and others. “Just as you need to talk openly and honestly with your kids about real life sex and relationships, you also want to discuss online and cell phone activity,” the survey says, and it offers tips for both teens and parents.

School systems and law enforcement agencies are struggling to address the repercussions after indecent photos or videos appear online. Lawyers are exploring whether teens who distribute their own sexual photos or videos can be charged with obscenity or child pornography, if the teen is under the legal age of consent. Advocates are also raising questions about when the “fun and flirtatious” sharing of racy messages becomes cyber-bullying and harassment.

“That so many young people say technology is encouraging an even more casual, hook-up culture is reason for concern, given the high rates of teen and unplanned pregnancy in the United States,” said Marisa Nightingale, Senior Advisor to the Entertainment Media Program at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “Parents should understand that their own notions of what’s public, what’s private, and what’s appropriate, may differ greatly from how teens and young adults define these concepts.”

Teenage Research Unlimited surveyed 1,280 teens and young adults, ages 13 to 26, online from September 25 to October 3. To read the complete survey, click here.

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