(HealthDay News) — About half of youth reported having sexted as minors, and most lacked awareness of the legal consequences of underage sexting, according to research published online June 4 in Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

Heidi Strohmaier, of Drexel University in Philadelphia, and colleagues conducted an anonymous online survey of 175 college students to assess the prevalence of exchanging sexually explicit text messages, known as “sexting,” among youth.

The researchers found that more than half of respondents reported engaging in sexting as minors, including 28% who sent photographic sexts. Respondents generally lacked awareness of the legal consequences of underage sexting. Respondents who, as minors, were aware of the legal consequences of underage sexting were significantly less likely to engage in this behavior. When asked whether minors should be prosecuted for sexting, most survey respondents advocated rehabilitative rather than punitive sanctions.

“Because the exchange of sexually explicit text messages among adolescents sometimes leads to serious consequences including bullying, suicide, incarceration, and mandatory National Sex Offender Registration, the subject warrants close attention by researchers, policy makers, and educators,” the authors write.

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