Sending and receiving sexually explicit cellphone photos, or sexting, is widespread amongst US teenagers, a new study has found.
In many US states, sending or receiving nude pictures of under-18s is regarded as seriously as possession or distribution of child pornography, and can lead to being listed on a sex offender register.
But, says Donald Strassberg from the University of Utah, nearly four in ten teens has done it anyway. His team asked 606 students from a private high school in the southwest US about their experiences of sexting and their understanding of the consequences.
They were also asked about their feelings on sending sexually explicit cell phone pictures, for example, in what context it might be right or wrong.
Nearly 20 percent of the students, some as young as 14, said they had sent a sexually explicit image of themselves via a cellphone, and almost twice as many said that they had received a sexually explicit picture.
Of those receiving such a picture, over a quarter forwarded it to others.
Worryingly, it doesn't look as if education about the potential consequences will make much difference. Of those who had sent a sexually explicit picture, over a third had done so despite believing that there could be serious legal and other implications if they got caught.
Nevertheless, say the authors, "These results argue for educational efforts such as cell phone safety assemblies, awareness days, integration into class curriculum and teacher training, designed to raise awareness about the potential consequences of sexting among young people."