Onset Trajectories of Sexting and Other Sexual Behaviors Across High School: A Longitudinal Growth Mixture Modeling Approach

Steinberg, Davia B.; Simon, Valerie A.; Victor, Bryan G.; Kernsmith, Poco D.; Smith-Darden, Joanne P.
November 2019
Archives of Sexual Behavior;Nov2019, Vol. 48 Issue 8, p2321
Academic Journal
journal article
Sexting is receiving substantial scholarly attention and is now considered commonplace in adolescence. Little is known, however, about the normative contexts and the development of adolescent sexting behavior, including the initiation of sexting in relation to other sexual behaviors. In this study, we used growth mixture modeling to identify classes of onset trajectories for sexual behaviors across high school. Participants included 429 high school students (54% female) who completed annual assessments of sexual behavior over a three-year period. We identified four distinct classes: postponement (9%) with no behaviors other than hand-holding and kissing initiated by Grade 11, gradual onset (44%) with sexting and other sexual behaviors emerging incrementally across high school, continuous onset (32%) with sexting and other sexual behaviors within the first three years of high school, early onset (15%) with initiation of sexting and all other sexual behaviors prior to or by the end of Grade 9. Boys were more likely than girls to be members of the postponement versus gradual onset class, while Black students were more likely than White students to be members of the early versus gradual onset class. Sexting behavior appears to be common in adolescence and co-emerges with genital contact behavior across varying trajectories of sexual development. These findings provide the foundation for contextualizing sexting within normative sexual development. Further, this information can inform efforts to promote sexual health.


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