The straight talk on smartphone sex - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

The straight talk on smartphone sex

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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) -

Teens who own a smartphone may be at a higher risk of engaging in risky sexual behavior, according to recent studies.

The findings point to the growing amount of time teens spend on their mobile devices and the anonymity that the technology lends.

A 2010 Pew-Internet survey found four percent of teens who own a cell phone have sent a sexually suggestive image of themselves via text messaging.

Research at the University of Southern California's School of Social Work also suggests teens who own a smartphone are twice as likely to have sex with a person they met online than a teen without one.

Media psychologist Dr. Pavica Sheldon's research at UAH's communications department revealed similar findings among teens.

"They are high-sensation seekers. High-sensation seekers tend to use Internet more, cell phones more and they're also more likely to engage in risky behavior," Dr. Sheldon said.

What was once a privilege has now become a common necessity among people who were born between 1980-1994 – a group that Dr. Sheldon calls "digital natives," or the "net generation."

"They feel more comfortable [online] because they don't have this face-to-face interaction," Dr. Sheldon said.

Bob Jones High School guidance counselor Heather Porter said it is rare for students to approach her about sexual encounters online via smartphones, but Porter acknowledges the problem.

"They're very bold in what they do to each other, send to each other, say to each other -- because they're not really saying it," Porter said.

Texting, tweeting, and other forms of messaging, Porter said, offers a safe shield of anonymity.

"They don't have to say it and have any consequence. There's no embarrassment anymore," she said.

Parents do have options to off-set the problem. Mobile apps like My Mobile Watchdog and software like Social Shield alert parents to risky online activity.

Researchers suggest that trust and communication with teens could be more effective. Results from the Pew-Internet survey also showed kids with unlimited texting plans may be more likely to receive sexually suggestive messages.

Teens with limited plans, or those who paid for their own messaging plans, saw a lower risk.

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