"The same teens who are engaging in digital sex risk taking through sexting are also the same teens that are engaging in sex risk with their bodies in terms of being sexually active and not using condoms," said lead study author Eric Rice, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California's School of Social Work in Los Angeles.
A 2009 report from the Pew Research Center found that some teens "view sexting as a safer alternative to real life sexual activity."
While the term "sexting" may also include messages also sent over the Internet, this particular study looked solely at cell phone text messages and images. It was conducted via questionnaire in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Researchers surveyed 1,839 students ages 12 to 18 at random. Most were Latino or African-American. Three-quarters of those surveyed had cell phones.
"Even though a minority of teens sext - we only found 15% - but that 15% are much riskier with their physical sexual behaviors as well as their digital sexual behaviors," says Rice.
He add that teens who reported sexting were seven times more likely to be sexually active than their peers who did not sext.
Image: Teen sending text message, via Shutterstock