A survey of Australian high school students has found that sending and receiving sexually explicit images and messages is a normal part of most teenage relationships.
La Trobe university researchers interviewed more than 2000 16 to 18-year-old students across the country as part of a study commissioned by the Federal Government.
The National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health is conducted every five years to explore the sexual behaviour, knowledge and attitudes of young Australians.
In the latest study researchers found that more than half of those surveyed had received a sexually explicit text message and 26 per cent reported sending a sexually explicit photo of themselves.
The results showed 25 per cent of year 10 students, a third of year 11 students and 50 per cent of year 12 students surveyed reported having had sex.
Of those who are sexually active, 84 per cent said they had received a sexually explicit text and 72 per cent said they had sent one.
Half of this group said they had sent a nude or explicit photo or video of themselves and 70 per cent reported receiving one.
Lead researcher Professor Anne Mitchell, who has conducted the study since 1992, says for young people, sexting is just a part of their sexual relationship.
“Given that it’s against the law, I think we have thoroughly lost that battle for young people,” she said.
“It’s just a part of a sexual relationship, part of courtship, now.”
Professor Mitchell says she would not go as far as recommending that sending explicit photos and videos to people under the age of 18 should be decriminalised, but she does think it should be up for debate.
“Of course harm can come to young people if these texts are sent far and wide but we found very low rates of what we’d call cyber bullying,” she said.
“We’re suggesting that for most young people this behaviour is really unproblematic and just kept within their sexual relationship.”