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The new first base: Sexting is now part of growing up

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Love in the age of technology is certainly reordering many people's approach to romance. Case in point, today's tech-savy teens are sending sexual text messages sometimes even before their first kiss.

Considered the new "first base," a new study suggests that sexting has become part of growing up, a stepping stone that could lead to real-life sexual activity.

Previous studies have revealed that sexting is considered normal among teens, even those who aren't at risk to become sexually active. However, parents should not be too alarmed. According to the study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers discovered that even though teens might be sending sexually explicit messages, that does not necessarily mean they are having sex.

Sexting opens the door for teens flirting with the possibility to engage in risky sexual activity. "This behavior isn't always new, it's just a new medium," says study author Jeff Temple, an associate professor and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. "But it's not safe because it can be shared."

The researches at the University of Texas Medical Branch published the study as part of a 2012 study that included about 1,000 diverse teens in Southeast Texas. The teens answered surveys that explained their sexting history in detail, as well as their sexual activity and other behaviors over the past six years.

The researchers analyzed the responses to determine if sexting predicts sexual activity a year later, and found that one in four teens sext; however, the researchers could not link any long-term increased sexual behavior risks to sexting.

Sexting could be classified with other typical teen behavior such as substance or alcohol abuse, but does not necessarily mean it has a negative effect on a teen's well-being. "Sexting is just one of many factors that are related to teenagers' sexual activity," says Temple. "Just taking away the phone isn't going to do anything to stop kids from having sex."

This suggests that the new first base of the technology age is just part of teen growing pains. "This is kind of good news that sexting comes first," Temple says. Since sexting predates sex, parents can talk to their teen about healthy sexual behaviors rather than assuming the worst after finding out that they sext.

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