Sexual Health Roundup: Teens Sext Despite Consequences and Research Sheds Hope and Doubt about HIV Cure


Teens Will “Sext” Despite the Legal Risks

There is some disagreement over how widespread teen “sexting” is; the media seems to want us to believe that all teens are sending nude pictures or lewd comments from their iPhones while some studies have found that it’s a pretty small phenomenon. In a December 2011 study, about 2.5 percent of teens ages 10 to 17 said they had made or appeared in “nude or nearly nude pictures or videos” of themselves and only one percent said they had “sexted” pictures of “naked breasts, genitals, or bottoms.” A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, however, paints a different picture. This study of 606 students at a private school in the Southwest found that “20 percent had used their cell phones to send a sexually explicit photo, and 25 percent have forwarded such an image.”

The study, conducted by psychologists, aimed to see if the potential legal consequences of sexting – such as child pornography charges or ending up on a sex offender registry–served as a deterrent for teens. It found just the opposite. A little more than 35 percent of students who were aware of their legal risks said they had sent a sexual image compared to 24 percent of those who weren’t aware of the legal risks. 

The study’s lead author compares this to underage drinking or cheating on a test and explains that the “mere understanding that there could be consequences may not be enough.” Teenagers, he explains, simply believe that the consequences won’t happen to them. It’s not entirely clear why teens who knew the risks were more likely to sext than those who didn’t – the author says this might be because teens are drawn to risk and things that are seen as “bad” or it could be a fluke. He is currently conducting more research.

In the meantime he argues that the strong laws are problematic. According to Buzzfeed the author said “a teenager being put on a sex offender registry for sending a nude pic to her boyfriend — a possibility in some states — is ridiculous especially since such draconian approaches appear to do little to deter other teens.”

HIV May Be Back in Man Thought to be “Cured”

In 2006, Timothy Brown underwent a bone marrow transplant for Leukemia in which he was given the marrow of a person who carried a rare genetic resistance to HIV. (The resistance is the result of a mutation which prevents the molecule CCR5 from appearing on the cell surface. About one in 100 Caucasian people have this mutation.) After the transplant, HIV appeared to have been eradicated from his body. Many pointed to Brown’s case as hope that a cure for HIV was within our reach. In a 2010 peer reviewed journal his doctors announced: “cure of HIV has been achieved.”

Last week, however, Brown’s doctors reported that new tests found signals of the virus in his body. Scientists disagree on what this means. It may be the result of a contamination in the testing process; he could have been re-infected; or it might mean that Brown was never actually “cured” of HIV. The new strains of HIV detected in his body were different from those he had in 2006. Again, scientist say this could be because Brown was re-infected or could show that the virus “evolved and persist(ed) over the last 5 years.”

These results certainly cast doubt as to whether he was ever truly cured. In a presentation, one of the doctors involved in his case said: “There are some signals of the virus and we don’t know if they are real or contamination, and, at this point, we can’t say for sure whether there’s been complete eradication of HIV.” 

Breast Milk May Block HIV Infection

A new study conducted on humanized mice (mice who have fully functioning human immune systems) found that human breast milk may kill HIV and block its oral transmission. Researchers conducted the study in part to better understand a current contradiction: “breast-feeding by HIV-infected mothers is believed to cause a large number of HIV infections in infants [but] most breast-fed infants do not become infected, despite prolonged and repeated exposure to the virus.”

Researchers gave the mice HIV in human breast milk from women who did not have HIV.  The mice did not become infected. According to researchers, it may be possible to isolate the compound in breast milk that destroys the virus and use it to prevent transmission in humans. The results of this study can also help scientist develop a better understand of how HIV is transmitted to infants and children.

The researchers caution, however, that findings in animals do not always translate to humans. 

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Follow Martha Kempner on Twitter: @MarthaKempner

To schedule an interview with Martha Kempner please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.