Association of Sexting with Sexual Behaviors and Mental Health among Adolescents: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Camille Mori, Jeff R. Temple, Dillon Browne, Sheri Madigan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

130 Scopus citations


Importance: Sexting is the exchange of sexual messages, photographs, or videos via technological devices and is common and increasing among youth. Although various studies have examined the association between sexting, sexual behaviors, and mental health, results are mixed. Objective: To provide a meta-analytic synthesis of studies examining the associations between sexting, sexual behavior, and mental health using sex, age, publication date, and study methodological quality as moderators. Data Sources: Electronic searches were conducted in April 2018 in MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Embase, and Web of Science, yielding 1672 nonduplicate records. Study Selection: Studies were included if participants were younger than 18 years and an association between sexting and sexual behaviors or mental health risk factors was examined. Data Extraction and Synthesis: All relevant data were extracted by 2 independent reviewers. Random-effects meta-analyses were used to derive odds ratios (ORs). Main Outcomes and Measures: Sexual behavior (sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, lack of contraception use) and mental health risk factors (anxiety/depression, delinquent behavior, and alcohol, drug use, and smoking). Results: Participants totaled 41723 from 23 included studies. The mean (range) age was 14.9 (11.9-16.8) years, and 21717 (52.1%) were female. Significant associations were observed between sexting and sexual activity (16 studies; OR, 3.66; 95% CI, 2.71-4.92), multiple sexual partners (5 studies; OR, 5.37; 95% CI, 2.72-12.67), lack of contraception use (6 studies; OR, 2.16; 95% CI, 1.08-4.32), delinquent behavior (3 studies; OR, 2.50; 95% CI, 1.29-4.86), anxiety/depression (7 studies; OR, 1.79; 95% CI, 1.41-2.28), alcohol use (8 studies; OR, 3.78; 95% CI, 3.11-4.59), drug use (5 studies; OR, 3.48; 95% CI, 2.24-5.40), and smoking behavior (4 studies; OR, 2.66; 95% CI, 1.88-3.76). Moderator analyses revealed that associations between sexting, sexual behavior, and mental health factors were stronger in younger compared to older adolescents. Conclusions and Relevance: Results of this meta-analysis suggest that sexting is associated with sexual behavior and mental health difficulties, especially in younger adolescents. Longitudinal research is needed to assess directionality of effects and to analyze the mechanisms by which sexting and its correlates are related. Educational campaigns to raise awareness of digital health, safety, and security are needed to help youth navigate their personal, social, and sexual development in a technological world..

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)770-779
Number of pages10
JournalJAMA Pediatrics
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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