Teen sexting is a real problem, but not the pervasive scourge some reports have suggested, according to the first detailed national study on youths who share sexual images on phones and the Internet.
Just 2.5% of kids ages 10 to 17 admit to creating or appearing in such photos or videos, and even fewer produce images that amount to pornography, says the study, published today in Pediatrics.
"Many of these are very benign pictures" — of kids who might strike a sexual pose, but who remain clothed, often wearing bathing suits or underwear, says lead author Kimberly Mitchell, a researcher at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
Parents might worry about those photos, but should know that there's no epidemic of teens "unwittingly producing child pornography," co-author Janis Wolak says.
Researchers conducted phone interviews with 1,560 youths nationwide and asked about exchanges of "nude or nearly nude" images of minors in the past year. They found:
•1.8% created such images of themselves; just five kids (0.3%) said they appeared in someone else's photos; and six (0.4%) said they photographed someone else.
•1.3% said they appeared in or created images that showed naked breasts, genitals or bottoms.
•7% said that they have received such images.
"If their findings are true and the extent of this is less than previous studies have shown, it's a very good thing," says Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.