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Sexting and college students

July 26, 2011

A new study out of the University of Rhode Island suggests that nearly 80 percent of college students have received sexually suggestive messages on their cell phones and more than half have received sexually explicit images.

The survey of 204 college students found that 56 percent had received sexually suggestive images, and 78 percent had received sexually suggestive messages. Two-thirds of the group had sent sexually suggestive messages, and 10 percent were sent without consent from the person who originally created the message.

The results follow a change in state law that bans the practice known as “sexting” by minors, though it does protect them from prosecution under child pornography statutes. The researchers point out that many college students are not minors, which could put them in a difficult legal position if they exchange sexual cell phone content with peers who have not yet turned 18.

“It is important to help everyone, especially students, understand the importance of setting boundaries around their use of technology,” said Tiffani Kisler, assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies URI and one of the authors of the study. “It is a delicate situation with the new laws that are in place.”

A related study by the same research team raises questions about the health effects of cell phones for college students. In a group of 236 juniors and seniors, 47 percent reported that they were awakened by text messages and responded before going back to sleep. 40 percent also said they interrupted sleep to answer phone calls. This type of behavior can cause an average loss of 44 minutes of sleep per week, a significant amount according to the researchers.

“At first glance 44 minutes doesn’t seem like much, but combined with the fact that college students are the most sleep deprived population across all age groups, the implications are significant,” said study co-author Sue Adams, an assistant professor with URI’s Department of Human Development and Family studies. “If students are constantly interrupting their sleep cycle, they place themselves at risk for sleep debt, which can impact multiple areas of their life, including academic performance.”

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