Teen sexting driven by peer pressure, says study

(CBS) - We've all heard of young people being pressured to drink, do drunks and have sex - but sexting? That's a new peer-pressure-practice to add to the books and to be filed under the digital age.

When I was a teen - years before the Internet and mobile phones became mainstream - there was no such thing. I first encountered a sext in my late 20s. I blushed, chuckled, then became embarrassed and appalled. I am not that kind of girl - no judgment though, no judgment.

In case you didn't already know because you're not quite as fortunate enough as some of us to have received a sext (I say sarcastically), "sexting" is the act of sending and receiving sexual images and texts using a mobile device. Politician Anthony Weiner, golfer Tiger Woods and basketball player Tony Parker have been guilty of "sexting."

It's not one's finest hour when exposed as a "sexter" as you can imagine. Now, a study that was presented at the 2011 Australasian Sexual Health Conference finds that many young people are pressured to sext.

According to the University of Melbourne, researchers interviewed 33 young people between the ages of 15 and 20 years old and found:

- A highly sexualized media culture bombarded young people with sexualized images and created pressure to engage in sexting.

- There's pressure that boys place on each other to have girls' photos on their phones and computers. The young people surveyed said if boys refrained from engaging in the activity they were labeled 'gay' or could be ostracized from the peer group.?

- Both genders talked about the pressure girls experienced from boyfriends or strangers to reciprocate on exchanging sexual images.?

- Some young women talked about the expectation (or more subtle pressure) to be involved in sexting, simply as a result of having viewed images of girls they know.?

Although only 15 boys and 18 girls were interviewed for this study, the findings are still disturbing nonetheless. Teens are growing up so fast. They're encountering stuff that I, at the age of 31, am still so shocked by and modest about (to say the least). When I saw my first sext, I didn't even tell my closest friends out of fear people would think I was skanky or something. And here you have kids in their freshman year of high school being challenged with really "adult" moments.

"Our study reveals how complex and ever-changing the phenomenon of 'sexting' is and that continued meaningful dialogue is needed to address and prevent the negative consequences of sexting for young people," said Shelley Walker from the Primary Care Research Unit in the Department of General Practice at the University of Melbourne who worked on the study.

  • Ysolt Usigan

    Ysolt Usigan is the editor of lifestyle and technology for women at CBSNews.com