Youth Culture Window

From Sexting to Sex

Dynamic ImageWe can’t necessarily explain it, but all of us notice it. 6th grade boys avoid girls like the plague…but when they become 7th graders, those same boys do all they can to capture the attention of girls.

Even if that means sending or requesting sexually provocative messages and photos.

They Do It, Too?
We’ve known for some time that some young people have sent or received sexually suggestive texts or sexual pictures to each other. It’s called sexting, and it means anything from sending pictures to talking dirty in a text. But this recent report revealed a majority of young people under the age of 18 send and receive sexually explicit text messages…54% to be exact according to a report by Drexel University. Yes, that sounds high, but read the fine print. Some have labeled saying, “I think your body is hot” as sexting.

Regardless, researchers find there is a correlation between sexting and sex in the lives of high school students. It’s sad, but of the girls who admit to sexting, 77% of them also admit to having sex. 82% of boys in this upper age group who sext also have sex. The students in this age group (for both genders) who did not send sexually explicit messages and/or pictures were far less likely to engage in sex.

OK…so kids who send sext messages tend to start having sex earlier. But how much earlier?

That’s the exact question The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics wanted to answer, so they commissioned a study to analyze the sexting and sex lives of middle school students, kids who are typically 11-13 years of age. Studying nearly 1,300 middle school students in Los Angeles, they discovered that kids who sent and received sexual message/photos were 3 to 7 times more likely to be sexually active than the kids who did not send/receive provocative messages/photos. Eric Rice, one of the study’s lead researchers, claimed, “Even among kids as young as 11 to 13, those who sext are also sexually active.”

(I can’t say that I’m surprised. Some believe the average age of first time exposure to porn is 11 years old. That’s how old I was when I was first introduced to porn on the campus of my middle school one morning before class.)

The entire report by Pediatrics is available online, but a quick summary is enough to get the attention of parents and youth workers. For example:


  • 20% of middle school students with a text-capable phone reported receiving a sext.
  • 5% of them admitted to sending one.
  • Students who sent more than 100 text messages per day were more likely to send and receive sexts…and be sexually active.

What can we do to combat this problem? Take away cell phones until they get into high school (or college). Spy on our kids’ cell phones? Something else entirely?

A Visit to the (Love) Doctor?
Unsurprisingly, the research shared by Pediatrics encourages doctors to have conversations with middle school students about sexting and sex…which sounds a lot like those doctor visits where the physician asks to see kids’ iPods.

I can hear it now. “Turn your head, cough…and open up your messaging app.”

The conclusion formulated by the researchers covers a couple of life-changing problems.

“Because early sexual debut is correlated with higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies, pediatricians should discuss sexting with young adolescents because this may facilitate conversations about sexually transmitted infection and pregnancy prevention.”

Talking with a doctor is a perfectly fine idea. But those conversations are infrequent, at best. There are additional ways parents can help their middle school students avoid the pitfalls that so often accompany teen texting and teen relationships.


  1. Ask yourself if your middle school student is ready for a smartphone. And then be honest with yourself about the answer. Many parents are hesitant to get their kid a cell phone, but after the convenience they offer their families, those same parents are just as hesitant to take them away in the aftermath of broken trust or disobedience. Let’s face it; you have to be 16 to drive and 18 to vote. Check out how some experts have answered the “How young is too young?” question when it comes to teenagers’ use of technology and social media…then have a conversation with your family to set boundaries and expectations.
  2. Talk with your middle school kids about sexting and sexuality. Again, talking with a doctor is a great strategy because they can often point out biological facts that elude the common mother and father. But those discussions with a medical expert must be in addition to the constant conversations between middle school kids and their parents. Ask questions that relate to wisdom, practice, and relationships. Ask questions that get them thinking about consequences and their future. Whatever you ask about, make sure to take the time to listen.

In my youth ministry days, I routinely visited middle school campuses to have lunch with my students and their friends. Hardly a visit went by that I didn’t overhear conversations of a sexual nature, many of them crude and course. Middle school students are already talking about sex and sexting. We might as well join the conversation.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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