Since a sizable minority of youth are sexting and there are likely large individual differences in sexting and sexual behaviors, yet to be captured, a Latent Class Analysis was used to identify subgroups of youth characterized by differential engagement in sexting and sexual behaviors.
Participants were an ethnically diverse sample of 894 youth (55.8% female; Mage = 17.04, SD = 0.77) from a longitudinal survey study in southeast Texas. Latent classes were identified through participants’ responses to the following indicator variables: sending, receiving, and requesting sexts, sexual activity, contraception use, ≥ three partners, and substance use prior to sexual activity. Gender, ethnicity, impulsivity, and living situation were analyzed as predictors, and depressive symptoms as an outcome, of class membership. The analysis revealed four distinct classes: No sexting-Low sex (42.2%), Sexting-Low sex (4.5%), No sexting-Moderately risky sex (28.3%), and Sexting-Moderately risky sex (24.9%). Gender and ethnicity predicted class membership wherein females and ethnic minority youth were less likely to be in groups displaying higher rates of sexting. Impulsivity and living situation predicted class membership, such that youth reporting higher impulsivity and living in a situation other than with two biological parents were less likely to be in classes displaying low sexting and sexual behaviors. Group membership predicted depressive symptoms. Results suggest that not all youth who are sexting are having sex, and not all youth who are having sex are sexting. Evidence of individual differences in youth sexual behaviors should inform educational initiatives aimed at teaching youth about sexual and online health. (Publisher Abstract)