Does Sexting Take the Place of Sex for Teenagers?

Kara Powell | Sep 27, 2012

It’s been wondered whether sexting is a substitute for sex among teenagers. A new study from the University of Southern California of Los Angeles high school students suggests that it’s not a replacement for sexual intercourse; perhaps it’s more of a precursor or corrollary.

In their survey of 1,839 young people, researchers found that teenagers who engaged in exchanging sexually-charged messages by text were more, not less, likely to engage in real-life sex.

What’s the frequency of sexting? In this study, 15% of those surveyed had engaged in sexting, while 54% knew someone who had.

Based on this data, the researchers are recommending that sexting be included in the curriculum of school-based sexual education.

That made me wonder: how much are families and churches talking about sexting? In most families, mum’s the word when it comes to sexuality. In fact, there’s some evidence that religious-oriented families are less likely to talk about sexual topics than non-religious-oriented families.

I find that ironic. As people who follow God, the creator of sex, we should be the first ones to talk about sex. That’s why the youth ministry sex ed curriculum I co-authored is entitled Good Sex(to my mom’s chagrin).

If you’re a leader or parent who finds it challenging to talk to young people about sex, try some of the following tips that have worked for me:

1. Start by asking about friends’ behaviors and attitudes. If it feels too challenging to ask a young person about their own practices or attitudes, ask about “other kids at school” as a way to start the conversation.

2. Use media, current events, or other resources as a springboard. Maybe even start the conversation by using the content of this blog as a door-opener.

3. Choose the right time. Much of conversation with teenagers boils down to timing.

4. Share about your own experiences. One of the themes in our Sticky Faith research is that wise parents share (not lecture!) about their own experiences in natural and organic ways. Without divulging every detail of your sexual past, perhaps your young person is ready to hear a bit about mistakes you made, or what you wish you’d done differently.

5. Invite your young person to talk to another adult. If you’re a parent and it’s just too challenging to talk with your young person about sex, then figure out with your kid who they might be able to talk to.

Often there’s more happening sexually in young people’s lives and thoughts than we might realize. May this new study be a catalyst for better conversations about tough topics.

What else has helped you talk with a young person about sex or other challenging topics?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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