Australian school aged children are overwhelmingly using social media to make contact and develop sexual relationships, according to a comprehensive study by Latrobe University's Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society.
The Fifth National Survey (PDF) of Secondary Students and Sexual Health was carried out in 2013 and involved more than 2000 Year 10, 11, and 12 students across Australia.
The latest survey, which started in 1992 in response to fears of the Aids virus, says the data demonstrate that the vast majority of young people are confident in their decision-making around their sexual health.
"Those who are sexually active are, by and large, having sex that they enjoy and feel positive about," the report says.
"The majority of those who are not having intercourse are feeling comfortable and confident that this is what they want.
"This is clearly a strength of young people and one which should be recognised in the approaches taken to sexual health promotion and sexuality education targeting young people."
More than half reported receiving a sexually explicit written text message while over one-third had sent such a text message (43%) or received a sexually explicit photo of someone else (42%).
Just over one-quarter (26%) of young people reported that they sent a sexually explicit photo of themselves.
Higher proportions of young men sent and received sexually explicit photos or videos of someone else, and reported using social media for sexual reasons.
Most sexually active students reported receiving (84%) and sending (72%) sexually explicit text messages and receiving a sexually explicit nude or nearly nude photo or video of someone else (70%), while 50% reported sending a sexually explicit nude or nearly nude photo or video of themselves.
Nearly one-third of sexually active students have used a social media site for sexual reasons (31%) while 17% have sent a sexually explicit image of someone else.
Higher proportions of young men than young women reported sending (25% vs 11%) and receiving (76% vs 66%) explicit images of someone else and using social media for sexual reasons (45% vs 23%).
"The use of social media is almost universal and clearly plays a large role in the negotiation and development of sexual relationships," the report says.
"This includes the now common sending of explicit messages and images, most of which appear to occur within relationships.
"Policies and programs designed to improve the sexual health of young people cannot work against this trend but clearly now must work with it to minimise damage and enable young people to develop an ethical framework to guide them in this territory.
"At best this phenomenon presents a clear opportunity for getting messages out to a large number of young people in ways we could not envisage a decade ago. "
Originally published on Business Insider Australia