Sexting: ‘It’s become kind of the sexual norm’

Posted at 7:05 PM, Apr 07, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-07 19:54:14-04

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) - Some experts worry that "sexting," or sending sexually explicit photos over the internet or text messages, could be on the rise among teens as more of them get smartphones.

Last week, an Instagram account containing over 1,000 explicit photos of juveniles was discovered by investigators in Louisa County.  More than 100 teens in six different Virginia counties had access to the page, investigators said.

Sending an explicit picture via text or social media is a simple process to a tech savvy teen, however, experts are reiterating it's a post or text you cannot recover.

"It's gone. Once it's released, it's gone," said Gale Grant, Adolescent Health Coordinator for the Richmond City Health District. "If you live in a small community, viral can be throughout your high school; that's viral."

According to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Unplanned Pregnancy, more than 20 percent of adolescents surveyed admitted to sending or receiving sexually explicit photos electronically.

Experts worry the number could increase as the number of smartphones in the hands of teens goes up.

A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Group found that 37 percent of teens now have a smartphone, an increase of 12 percent over just two years.  The study also found that three out of four adolescents have access to the internet via mobile devices.

"[Sexting has a] detrimental impact on a person who is developing, who is learning about relationships," said Grant of teens who practice sexting.

For a generation of millennials, who grew up with mobile devices and social networks as a part of their daily routine, "sexting" seems like a social norm.

"We see it as less of an issue because it's what we've grown up with.  It's become kind of the sexual norm," said 22-year old Heather Winsor.

Many parents have accepted the reality that their children need a cell phone these days, but Grant said limiting access to the internet on mobile devices could help stop teens from sexting.

"Do not believe it when you child tells you they have to have the whole shabang; their phone, a data plan and all that.  No they do not," said Grant.

Grant said even though talking with children about "sexting" may feel awkward to parents, they should not miss out on a teachable moment.

Sheri Harabedian from Richmond said she plans on speaking with her 15-year old daughter about sexting in light of the Louisa County investigation.

"I'm hoping they realize how important your morals are and that they keep that with them," Harabedian said.

Legal experts tell CBS 6 anyone who sends or possesses an electronic copy of a sexually explicit photo of a person under the age of 18 could face child pornography charges.