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Good Question: How Common Is Sexting?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Brett Favre has put the word “sexting” onto our TV screens, newspaper headlines and all over the web. We’ve heard about high schools warning teenagers about the dangers of sexting, but if a 40-year-old professional athlete is doing it, how common is sexting?

“The news is that it is more prevalent than most people would find comfortable,” said Bill Albert, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

The National Campaign surveyed men and women between the ages of 13 and 26, and found 22 percent of teen girls and 18 percent of teen boys sent and/or posted nude or semi-nude pictures of themselves.

On Facebook, Robin wrote about her three teenagers: “I have been known to forward pictures back to the parents of the sexter.”

As people get older, they send more sexts, according to the survey. Of young adult women (20-26), 36 percent have sent nude or semi-nude pictures; 31 percent of young adult men sent sexts.

“Whenever you have anything approaching the one-third mark, it is not an unusual occurrence … It is not as if Brett Favre is unusual,” said Albert.

Kate is in college and wrote that sexting is “pretty common among college age/post grad people. The only instances I’ve heard of it in real life were among people in long distance relationships, trying to keep the spark alive I guess.”

She added: “I know my parents have never heard of it, or so I hope.”

There’s no good research on older people sexting, but according to a University of Minnesota professor, there’s also no reason to think that older people wouldn’t be doing it.

“It’s a cultural, human condition. People have certain things they want to get across, certain ways of articulating their sexuality,” said Shayla Thiel-Stern, an assistant professor in the College of Journalism & Mass Communication.

Looking back on her youth, where the only choice would have been to use a Polaroid Camera because you couldn’t develop dirty pictures at the local drug store, Thiel-Stern said, “Maybe we would have done it, if it were possible.”

This is a case where the rapid exchange of extremely personal pictures wouldn’t be happening on any sort of wide scale if it was not for cell phones with cameras and the ease of texting.

“It changes everything. It has fostered cultural change. If you think of ‘Girls Gone Wild’ — this isn’t too far of a stretch from ‘Girls Gone Wild’ and reality TV and the whole surveillance culture,” she added.

If the data on the number of teens and young adults sending sexts is surprising, the data on the number of teens and young adults who receive is even larger.

According to Pew Research Center, 30 percent of 17-year-olds say they’ve received a nude or nearly nude image on their phone.

In the National Campaign survey, 64 percent of young adults reported receiving picture sexts.

On Facebook, Johanna wrote: “I can’t tell you how many times I have had an unexpected ‘Favre’ happen.”

On average, more women than men send dirty pictures. No one’s researched how many people in their 30s and up are sexting. Although, AARP wrote about people in their 60s sending dirty pictures.

“It’s supposed to be private, expected to be private, goes from private to global in about a nanosecond,” said Albert.

More than 70 percent of those surveyed said they knew the pictures could reemerge and be used against them, but that didn’t change their behavior.

“They were very aware and very mindful that there may be negative consequences, but it doesn’t stop them,” Albert explained.

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