A NATIONAL survey of high school students shows sending and receiving sexually explicit messages has become a common part of teenage courtship.
But local authorities remain concerned that teenagers were unaware of the long-term consequences of their impulsive actions including the fact that it was illegal to send sexually explicit images.
A La Trobe University study involving more than 2000 students aged 16 to 18 revealed that 54% of them had received a sexually explicit text message or "sext" and 26% reported having sent a sexually explicit photo of themselves.
That number rose among sexually active students, with 84% reported to have received a sext message and 72% having sent one.
The term "sexting" was created a few years ago - combining the words sex and text - and describes the use of technology to share personal sexual content.
CQUniversity sexuality researcher Catherine O'Mullan said the levels were concerning but not surprising given the highly sexualised culture young people were exposed to.
"Young people are exposed to increasing amounts of hyper-sexualised images, for example, and then they are sold the idea that they need to look 'sexy' and 'hot'," she said.
"(There are) no easy solutions but certainly parents and schools have a key role to play in supporting young people to cope with and contextualise sexualised images and messages."
Kepnock High School principal Jenny Maier said schools could not afford to ignore the problem.
"We know just how attached young people are to their mobile phones and there is no denying that there are inappropriate uses of those devices," she said.
"Part of the education of our students is how to use social networking devices in a responsible manner.
"It is embedded in programs that we run such as Positive Experiences at Kepnock, which is our social and wellbeing program."
Bundaberg Police Detective Sergeant Cameron Schneider said it was important young people were made aware of the legal implications of sexting.
"If you are under 16 years of age and someone either produces, distributes or possesses (sexual images), they open themselves up to criminal prosecution," he said.
"If you are over 16, there is also another offence called Breach of Privacy."
- 50% of young people expressed significant dissatisfaction with sex education at schools
- 86% of teenagers said the last time they'd had sex they'd used a condom if one was available
- 23% of sexually active students had sex with three or more people in the past year
- 25% of sexually active students reported an experience of unwanted sex of some kind