4 Out of 5 College Kids Sext

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Sexting and college, they go together like carnal and knowledge. But a recent survey from the University of Rhode Island has put some numbers on how widespread it is. And the answer is: w i d e.

Seventy-eight percent of students in the survey say they’ve received sexually suggestive messages and 56% say they have received intimate images. Two thirds of the students said they sent salacious messages. Before we call a national epidemic of Weiner -itis, we should note that 73% of texts were sent to a romantic partner. Almost like a romantic old love-letter, but shorter and with more emoticons.

And, it seems, with more staying power. Almost a fifth of the people who received the racy messages then forwarded them onto somebody else. And 10% of all the explicit messages sent were relayed without permission from the original author. (Those statistics should be put on a label and stuck on cellphones everywhere.)

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“At the age of most college students, people are filtering through relationships at a faster rate,” said one of the study authors Tiffani Kisler. “People want to feel a sense of belonging so they are sharing more of themselves with people they are still getting to know. Once they click the send button, they don’t know where else a message will end up.”

The study sample was small (200) and limited to Rhode Island students, but the issue of younger people sending explicit images and messages via cell-phone is  increasingly worrying. There have been several high-profile cases recently in which a forwarded sext has made life misery for the original composer of the message. It has also left those forwarding the message facing child pornography charges.

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And in Rhode Island, where the participants in this study live, Governor Lincoln Chafee recently signed a bill that outlaws sexting by minors. Since some of these college students are 17, and with friends in high school to whom a salacious message might be sent, they could be in for a rude shock—and not just from the text.