Amanda , I was also struck by the disparity between the sexting data to come out of the Pew poll dated December 2009 and the earlier studies done by the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy . The earlier survey had one teen in five reporting having sent or posted naked photos of themselves. The new Pew data shows just 4 percent of teenagers ages 12-17 reporting having sent “sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images” to someone via text message. That is a pretty enormous disparity and may represent the difference between an epidemic and the cable ratings grab you describe. Tracy Clark-Flory thinks the change in the numbers may have happened because kids wised-up after the sexting media frenzy last winter. She thinks they may just have stopped using their cellphones to show off their naked bodies. I also wonder if the string of draconian criminal prosecutions last winter affected how likely they were to self-report sexting afterwards, since the Pew poll took place from June to September of this year.
Maybe even more interesting is the decline in the numbers across the two surveys with respect to teens receiving sexual images. The National Campaign to Prevent Pregnancy survey showed 25 percent of teen girls and 33 percent of teen boys seeing naked images originally sent to someone else. A more recent MTV-Associated Press poll of young adults ages 14 to 24 indicated that 17 percent of the kids who’d received sexually explicit photos reported passing them along to someone else. The Pew survey shows 15 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 have received a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video of someone else. Those numbers are still awfully high, but they do appear to be dropping. I wonder if that means teens have learned at least one useful thing from the sexting frenzy: that passing these images along to third parties is a form of bullying with lifelong-sometimes even life-threatening-consequences.