A worldwide study of more than 110,000 teens published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics found that 1 in 4 participants reported receiving sext messages, and 1 in 7 admitted to sending them.
What did the research find?
Sheri Madigan, study author and assistant professor at the University of Calgary, said parents should not be surprised that teens are sexting given the prevalent use of digital technology across all age groups — 73 percent of teens had access to a smartphone, as of 2015.
And though the number of teenagers having sex has declined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those engaging in the transmission of sexually explicit messages, photos, or videos via smartphones has been on the rise, the study found.
In fact, Madigan told Time that she actually expected the numbers to be higher.
While 41 percent of high school students reported engaging in sexual intercourse, according to the CDC, only 15 percent sent sexts. But the study found 27 percent of teens reported receiving sexts, with the behavior gradually becoming more common with age, further suggesting a link between teen sexting and sexual behavior.
What's the risk?
The study's authors pointed out important distinctions between the behaviors of boys and girls when it comes to sexting. Even though it showed both genders tend to sext the same amount, boys were more likely to request explicit texts, while girls reported feeling more pressured to send intimate photos.
But girls were also more likely to report being worried they would be judged for sexting, and those concerns aren't unfounded. The study authors wrote that even though it is illegal in many countries to share an intimate photo without explicit consent, their research "suggests that 12.5% of teens are forwarding intimate photos without the consent of the sender."
Madigan recommended parents have an open dialogue with their teens about the legal consequences of sexting and to be proactive. Not only could there be legal consequences like being charged with the distribution or possession of child pornography for sharing elicit content, very real concerns exist in regard to digital security and cyberbullying.
"Preaching abstinence is not effective," Madigan and study co-author Jeff Temple wrote in an article for CBS News. "Parents should emphasize cause and effect for teens. Once the videos or images have been sent, the teen forfeits control of who sees it."