Last summer, ‘sexting’ was added to the Concise English Oxford Dictionary meaning it was an official thing. An official thing to study. An official thing to hand-ring over. An official thing to have stats for.
In their July 2, 2012 print edition, @Time says 1 in 4 teens say they “…have received a sexually explicit photo on their cell phone and forwarded it to friends”.
I mocked @Time for it’s changing stats – was it 1 in 4 or nearly 1 in 3? After I was done feeling smug, I thought “what if the “it” isn’t the same”? What if the “it” of the 1 in 4 is different from the “it” in the nearly 1 in 3? Oh-uh.
Time to figure out that the hell sexting is.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, sexting is “the sending of sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone”. By this definition, forwarding a sexually explicit photograph or message is clearly sexting. So, if 1 in 4 teens are “sending of sexually explicit photographs or messages via mobile phone”, then 1 in 4 teens sext. Perhaps. Where did @Time get this 1 in 4 sext stat? Where did @Time get the nearly 1 in 3 sext stat?
Time to go to the source of these stats.
Unfortunately, no source was provided for that 1 in 4 @Time stat. The source for that nearly 1 in 3 stat is the recently published Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine paper Teen Sexting and Its Association With Sexual Behaviors. This paper’s authors went with a nearly Oxford definition of sexting – “..the practice of electronically sending sexually explicit images or messages from one person to another” and sought to examine the “…lifetime prevalence of sexting…” by asking respondents four questions.
(1) “Have you ever sent naked pictures of yourself to another through text or e-mail;” (2) “Have you ever asked someone to send naked pictures of themselves to you;” (3) “Have you ever been asked to send naked pictures of yourself through text or e-mail;” and (4) “If so, how much were you bothered by this (not at all, a little, a lot, or a great deal).”
Make-up of the sample?
…total of 948 public high school students (55.9% female) participated
...recruited from 7 public high schools in 4 Houston-area school districts.
…14 to 19 years (mean, 15.8 years) and were in either the 10th or 11th grade.
…African American (26.6%), white (30.3%), Hispanic (31.7%), Asian (3.4%), and mixed/other (8.0%)…
Time to talk turkey. What did researchers learn?
A sizeable minority of teens (n = 259; 27.6%) reported having sent a naked picture of themselves through text or e-mail (sext). There was no significant difference between boys (27.8%) and girls (27.5%) in the proportion of teens who reported having sent a sext…
…girls (68.4%) more often reported having been asked to send a sext compared with boys (42.1%; P < .001). Boys were significantly (P < .001) more likely than girls to report having asked someone for a sext (46% and 21%, respectively).
…of those who had been asked to send a sext, girls more often reported being bothered by the request.
…the proportion of teens who had been asked to send a sext and who had actually sent a sext differed by race/ethnicity, with white/non-Hispanic and African American teens more likely than the other racial/ethnic groups to have both been asked and to have sent a sext.
Older teens were more likely to have sent a sext, and they were less likely to have been bothered by being asked to send a sext. The proportion of teens who reported having been asked to send a sext appeared to peak at 16 and 17 years of age (61.5% and 60.4%, respectively), then declined in those aged 18 years and older (53.3%).
Parental education level was significantly associated only with teens’ reports of having asked for a sext; adolescents with parents who had a high school education or less were more likely to have asked for a sext (P = .004).
[excerpts from here]
There is a lot of interesting stuff in these results, but here I’m focused on the number of sexting teens. Is it 1 in 4 or nearly 1 in 3?
Researchers found that 27.6% of their sample teens “…reported having sent a naked picture of themselves through text or e-mail (sext).” Percent, smercent! Let’s talk number of students sexting out of some number of students (1 in 3, 1 in 4, etc.).
To get stat like 1 in 4, the percent of students sending a naked picture of themselves would have to be 25%.
1 student/4 students total = 0.25 <– multiply 100% = 25%
To get stat like 1 in 3, the percent of students sending a naked picture of themselves would have to be skosh over 33%.
1 student/3 students total = 0.333333333333333….. repeating decimal!
At some point, we’ve got to cut off that repeating decimal. Let’s go with 0.33.
0.33 <– multiply 100% = 33%
I think we can all agree that 27.6% is greater than 25% (1 in 4) but less than 33% (1 in 3). I even think we can all agree that 27.6% is closer to 25% (1 in 4) than 33% (1 in 3).
The authors think that 27.6 is closer (but more than) 1 in 4.
…more than 1 in 4 adolescents have sent a nude picture of themselves through electronic means, about half have been asked to send a nude picture, and about a third have asked for a nude picture to be sent to them. [emphasis added]
Here’s what @Time said in their article Nearly 1 in 3 Teens Sext, Study Says. Is This Cause for Worry?:
Nearly 1 in 3 teens has sent a nude picture of him or herself to someone else, and more than half have been asked to do so, according to new research on nearly 1,000 Texas teens. [emphasis added]
According to Oxford Dictionaries, “nearly” is defined as “very close to; almost”. In my view (Image 3), 27.6% in NOT “very close to; almost” 1 in 3. As a mater of fact, it’s not “very close; almost” 1 in 4. Perhaps this is why researchers said “more than 1 in 4″ not “nearly 1 in 4″.
My verdict? @Time is wrong.
I don’t think @Time got the stats wrong because stats are scary. I suspect somebody thought “nearly 1 in 3″ sounded scarier than ”more than 1 in 4″.
Editorial Materials & MethodsmA Pimm’s cup, which was 33% Pimm’s by volume, was enjoyed while writing this post.