Teens have earned the reputation of constantly texting, but how many of them ratchet up the conversation and enter the realm of so-called sexting?
One in seven high school students in Los Angeles has sent a sexually explicit text message or photo, and those teens who engage in sexting are seven times more likely to engage in risky sexual encounters, according to a study from the University of Southern California published Monday in the Journal Pediatrics.
Relationship experts say the murky realm of digital sexual expression is potentially harmful for teens.
"There are so many young girls who think that it's courtship. It is not courtship. Sexting is not courtship," said Dr. Wendy Walsh, of DatingAdvice.com. "Sexting is giving up the goods before you even have the commitment from him."
While sexting does not pose a threat of sexually transmitted diseases, Walsh says many teens don't realize there are real consequences until it's too late.
"You can get kicked out of school. You can get embarrassed and shamed," Walsh said. "You could actually be in love with somebody and thinking that this is luring them in, but it's not. It's actually going to end the relationship sooner."
And, Walsh says, parents' removal from their teens' social behavior can exacerbate the problem.
"Even if parents are aware that this is going on, most parents don't understand it. They don't understand the neurological responses that happen through technology," Walsh said. "You've got to teach teens to slow down the train."
Yet girls do have the power to diffuse the pressure to sext, Walsh said.
"You can send a quick text and you can make it light and friendly that says, hey when you give me some respect then maybe you'll get a text back from me, and then you go stonewall silent," Walsh said. "You let him text to his little heart's content, but when he finally says something nice, respectful, then you text back."
The study also found that girls in particular who had texted a nude photo of themselves were more likely to have risky sex. They were also most likely to have recently had sex with multiple partners, and to use drugs or alcohol before sex.