More than a third of teenagers have received indecent sexual images by text message or email, many of which are from other teenagers, according to a new survey.
38 per cent of the 2,094 young people in the study carried out by children’s charity Beatbullying, said they had received a sexually explicit text or email.
Nearly a quarter said the message was from a current boyfriend or girlfriend.
‘Sexting’, as the sending of messages with sexually explicit content is known, is also leading to images being placed on social networking websites.
In 2008, a woman aged 18 from Cincinnati, Ohio, committed suicide after being bullied by fellow pupils who had seen indecent photos of her.
Worries about paedophiles accessing the images have also surfaced.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) said: “Paedophiles are actively looking for these pictures and then using them as leverage.”
The law forbids the possession or distribution of indecent images of children, and people committing such acts could be prosecuted.
The study will heighten concerns that teenagers are becoming increasingly sexualised.
In July, the NHS produced a new leaflet entitled Pleasure which says health promotion experts focus too much on encouraging ‘safe sex’ and not enough on enjoyment.
The leaflet has been circulated to teachers, parents and youth workers.
Under the heading “an orgasm a day keeps the doctor away”, the leaflet says: “Health promotion experts advocate five portions of fruit and veg a day and 30 minutes physical activity three times a week. What about sex or masturbation twice a week?”
In May it was reported that children who view TV programmes aimed at adults are more likely to engage in sexual activity earlier in life.
For the youngest children tracked by the study, six to eight year-olds, every hour spent watching adult-targeted television over two sample days increased their chances of having sexual intercourse during early adolescence by 33 per cent.