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Textually active: Sexting and depression among teens are linked, study says

A recent study conducted in Newton, Mass., suggests that cell phone users who "sext" are more likely to suffer from depression and suicide. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION/SAM SARKISIAN

Teenagers who ‘sext’ are more likely to have symptoms of depression, according to a Newton based Nov. 2 study.

Thirty-six percent of students who had ‘sexted’ reported depressive symptoms in the past year, according to the study conducted by The Educational Development Center, while only 17 percent of students who have not ‘sexted’ reported symptoms of depression.

The study, which was based on a 2010 survey that included more than 23,000 high school students, also revealed that 13 percent of high school students who have ‘sexted’ reported a suicide attempt in the past year, while only 3 percent of students who had not ‘sexted’ reported suicide attempts.

The survey did not reveal if ‘sexting’ causes depressive symptoms, or if depressive symptoms cause people to ‘sext.’

The survey is part of a greater research project, the MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey, which informs local officials involved with health education, prevention and policy-making programs.

It defines ‘sexting’ as sending, forwarding or posting nude, sexually suggestive or explicit photos or videos.

Preliminary results concluded that 10 percent of students who took the survey had sent a ‘sext’ in the past year, and 5 percent had an explicit photo or video of themselves sent by another person.

Students who had sexual intercourse at some point were five times more likely to ‘sext’ than those who had not, according to the survey.

Students who did not identify themselves as heterosexual were also more likely to send explicit messages or have pictures of themselves sent by others, according to the study.

Lead project researcher Shari Kessel Schneider said that while specific research in gender difference is forthcoming, there was a difference between men and women in result statistics.

“We found that 10 percent of males and 11 percent of females have sent a ‘sext’ of someone they know in the past 12 months,” Schneider said in an email, “and 6 percent of males and 4 percent of females have had a ‘sext’ sent of them in the past 12 months.”

Although Schneider said that the EDC has yet to research specific correlations between females affected by ‘sexting’ and depressive symptoms, slightly more females than males reported that they were involved in ‘sexting’ in the survey.

The prevalence of sexting among females, can be attributed to the kinds of relationships they choose, said Boston University psychology Professor Deborah Belle.

Belle said that girls tend to enjoy the sense of vulnerability and intimacy that dyadic relationships – relationships exclusively between two individuals – have.

“I think that girls often orient themselves to dyadic relationships,” she said. “Girls tend to seek out and be comfortable with one other person at a time. Girls more than boys, research suggests, are involved in dyadic relationships.”

But sexting can be harmful to both partners in a relationship, no matter what their gender is, Belle said. She said there is also a possibility of betrayal in these relationships, especially when one person makes his or herself vulnerable to the other by sending an explicit message.

“The other person fails to honor that self-disclosure and makes it public,” Belle said.

Some BU students said they agreed that the decision to ‘sext’ can be risky.

Paul Robinson, a College of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said that ‘sexting’ explicit images is often a result of peer pressure, and in some cases, constitutes child pornography.

“It takes the romance away from sex itself,” Robinson added.

School of Engineering sophomore Troy Wilson said that ‘sexting’ can get out of hand and that it is more risky if a couple that has ‘sexted’ in the past breaks up.

“Especially if they turn against you or something,” he said. “Of course, the obvious situation is if you accidently send it to your mom.”