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Sexting high among black, Hispanic teens; experts disagree on impact

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More than 20 percent of black and Hispanic teens say they have used their cellphones to send a "sext" message showing a nude or semi-nude photo or video of themselves to another person, and more than 30 percent say they have received such sext messages, according to a new study.

The research was done by University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Health Services. Why the focus on the two groups?

"Although sexting among U.S. youth has received much popular media attention, there are only limited data on its prevalence among ethnic minority youth," say the researchers in their study, published online journal, Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

The concern about sexting, the researchers say, is whether it "impacts other behaviors and health outcomes among youth and adults and, if so, what is the direction of the impact."

Balderdash, says Deb Levine, the executive director and founder of the Internet Sexuality Information Services, based in San Francisco, which uses the Internet and mobile apps and texts to share information about sexual health, disease prevention and assault.

"From a public health perspective, we have not as yet identified 'sexting' as a risky sexual behavior as regards HIV, STDs and unplanned pregnancies," Levine told NBC News. "Therefore, the need to identify young people who sext seems unnecessary."

In a recent editorial piece, "Sexting: A Terrifying Health Risk … or the New Normal for Young Adults?" for the Journal of Adolescent Health, Levine wrote that "If we are to use sexting to create relevant health messaging for youth, the messages could focus less on shame and more on mutual consent, communication about sexual desires, and regular testing for HIV and other STDs, especially for sexually active members of high-risk groups."

In the university study, the results "indicate that sexting is prevalent among ethnic minority youth," the researchers said.

And while the authors acknowledge that more research is needed to understand the context and circumstances of that sexting, "the first step in any public health inquiry is to understand the scope and prevalence of a potential health problem. Some data exist on the prevalence of sexting among youth in general. However, prevalence data for ethnic minority youth specifically are scarce."

The researchers' data is based on findings from 1,034 tenth-graders from a "large, urban school district in southeast Texas."

The FBI recently warned that that 'sexting can be associated with bullying or "sextortion," then subsequently received additional publicity when some of its employees were caught doing it.

This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. ET Friday.

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