This study examined the temporal sequencing of "sexting" and sexual intercourse and the role of active "sexting" (sending a nude picture) in mediating the relationship between passive sexting (asking or being asked for a nude picture) and sexual behaviors.
Data were drawn from Wave 2 (spring 2011) and Wave 3 (spring 2012) of an ongoing 8-year longitudinal study of high school students in southeast Texas. Participants included 984 ethnically diverse adolescents with a mean age of 18.09 years (56 percent female, 31 percent African-American, 29 percent Caucasian, 28 percent Hispanic, and 12 percent other). Retention rate for 1-year follow-up was 93 percent. Participants self-reported their history of sexual activity (intercourse, risky sex) and sexting (sent, asked, been asked). Using path analysis, the study examined whether teen sexting at baseline predicted sexual behavior at 1-year follow-up and whether active sexting mediated the relationship between passive sexting and sexual behavior. The study found that the odds of being sexually active at Wave 3 were 1.32 times larger for youth who engaged in sexting at Wave 2, relative to counterparts; however, sexting was not temporally associated with risky sexual behaviors. Consistent with the hypothesis, active sexting at Wave 2 mediated the relationship between asking or being asked for a sext and having sex over the next year. This study extends cross-sectional literature and supports the notion that sexting fits within the content of adolescent sexual development and may be a viable indicator of adolescent sexual activity. (Publisher abstract modified)