Most secondary school students have been asked to send sexually explicity pictures of themselves through text, email or applications such as Snapchat, and almost one-third have received sexually explicit images when they didn't want to.
The findings come from new research involving a survey of more than 800 teenagers here, with the authors warning that 'sexting' can have "devastating effects", especially for those receiving unsolicited images.
The study, entitled 'It's not just sexy pics: An investigation into sexting behaviour and behavioural problems in adolescents', was carried out by researchers at the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre in Dublin City University and used data gathered from a sample of 848 students aged 15–18 from schools around the country.
To the question 'Have you been asked to send naked pictures of yourself (a sext) through text, email or applications like Snapchat?' 44.4% of all the teenagers surveyed said they have "frequently" been asked, versus 43.5% overall who have never been asked and the balance of 12.1% who have been asked once.
Those "frequently" asked for such images included 29.3% of all females sampled and 15.2% of males surveyed.
The students surveyed were less likely to send images — 76.2% said they had never sent such an image versus 16.9% who had done so "frequently" and 6.9% who had done so once.
Just over 22% said they had frequently received a sexually explicit image (a sext) after they had asked for them, while 8.2% of teenagers said this had happened once.
However, 29.5% of students had frequently received a sexually explicit image (a sext) when they really didn't want to, including almost 22% of girls, and 14.5% had received an image in such a manner on one occasion.
According to the study, only a small rate of adolescents reported that they were two-way sexters (12.6%), receiving and sending images.
Of those involved in sexting, the most common sender/recipient was a boyfriend or girlfriend, followed by someone they had a crush on, but 13 people said they had received such an image from a stranger and 59 people said they had been asked to send an image by a stranger.
A smaller number of teenagers had received images or request from adults.
As to the impact of sexting, the study said: "Adolescents who received sexts showed more emotional problems compared to all other groups," adding that "receivers of sexts could be emotionally distressed by the explicit sexually images, which in some instances might be unwanted and as such, perceived as intrusive".
It also said two-way sexters were more likely to be boys, who might be less likely to be judged for sending and receiving sexts.
The lead author of the paper, Mairead Foody, said the behaviour of sharing sexual images between teenagers was "complex and nuanced".
"Young people, especially girls, can be subjected to sexual harassment in the form of receiving unsolicited images. Some young people (more boys in this research) send sexual images to their peers without being asked to. These actions can have devastating effects for the victims.
"Separate to this, older teenagers and young adults can have healthy and consensual sexual relationships with their peers that have no such negative consequences.
"Like offline relationships, consent is an important factor and should feed into education and awareness campaigns."
Read the research report in full here.