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Sexting: at least 15 percent of teens take part

The Pew Research Center releases a survey of young cellphone owners and sexting – sending or receiving sexually provocative pictures on phones.

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How many teens are “sexting”?

According to a new study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, some 15 percent of cellphone owners between 12 and 17 years old have received nude or nearly nude photos on their phones. Fewer – about 4 percent – admit to having sent such images themselves.

An MTV/Associated Press study that came out earlier this month has slightly higher numbers: About a third of young people (ages 14 to 24) surveyed said they receive e-mails or text messages with sexual words or images. About 1 in 10 said he or she shared a naked photo of oneself electronically.

“The numbers overall are relatively low ... but there’s also this ‘pass around' phenomenon,” says Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at Pew and author of the study. “This is an issue that touches a lot of teens indirectly, if not directly.”

It’s not a surprising phenomenon, Ms. Lenhart and others say: The factors driving it – teenagers wrestling with sexuality and relationships and often using poor judgment – have been around far longer than cellphones or the Internet. But when those factors are combined with the far reach and permanence of today’s technology, it can be dangerous.

At least two teenagers committed suicide after sexts they sent were passed around widely and used to harass them. While those are the extreme, far more teens face risks of basic embarrassment, bullying, or regret when the images reach people who they’d prefer didn't see them.

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