Original Report| Volume 32, ISSUE 5, P481-486, October 2019

Sexting and Young Adolescents: Associations with Sexual Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence


      Study Objective

      To explore whether sexting by young adolescent girls and boys is associated with adverse life experiences including exploitative or violent sexual relationships.

      Design and Setting

      Cross-sectional, anonymous survey of a convenience sample of minor adolescents younger than age 18 years recruited while waiting for care in clinics affiliated with a children's hospital in a low-resource, high-poverty, urban community.


      Five hundred fifty-five adolescents aged 14-17 years, 63% girls and 37% boys.

      Main Outcome Measures

      We measured sexting by asking, “Have you ever sent a sexually suggestive or naked picture of yourself to another person through text or e-mail?” The survey also measured risk behaviors, sexual abuse, intimate partner violence (IPV), and arrest and included a validated depression scale.


      Mean age was 15.6 ± 1.1 years; 59% were Hispanic, 28% were black; 44% of girls and 46% of boys ever had sex; 24% of girls and 20% of boys ever sent a sext. More girls than boys reported sexual abuse (16% vs 3%; P < .01), IPV victimization (15% vs 7%; P < .01), and depression (33% vs 17%; P < .01). More boys than girls reported arrest (15% vs 7%; P < .01). Independent associations with sexting for girls were: ever had sex (odds ratio [OR], 4.59; 95% confidence interval [CI], 2.29-9.19; P < .001); sexual abuse (OR, 3.81; 95% CI, 1.80-8.05; P < .001); IPV victim (OR, 2.72; 95% CI, 1.11-6.62; P < .05), and for boys: ever had sex (OR, 4.26; 95% CI, 1.47-12.32; P < .01); sexual abuse (OR, 38.48; 95% CI, 1.48-999.46; P < .05); IPV perpetration (OR, 16.73; 95% CI, 1.64-170.75; 95% CI, P < .05), as well as cannabis use, older age, other race, and arrest.


      For young adolescents, sexting is independently associated with exploitative and abusive sexual relationships including sexual abuse and IPV with similarities and differences in predictors of sexting for girls and boys.

      Key Words

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