Almost a quarter of people who receive sexts share them with other people.
Despite the fact that 73 per cent of people said they were uncomfortable with explicit messages being shared with anyone but the intended recipient, 23 per cent said they had shown such texts to other people.
Justin Garcia of Indiana University, who led the new study.the study, questioned whether the revelations reveal immoral – or even criminal – behaviour.
“That finding suggests that the real risk of sexting is the potential for non-consensual sharing of sext messages,” Mr Garcia told Science Daily.
“If someone sends something to you with the presumption that it’s private and then you share it with others, what do we want to consider that type of violation? Is it just bad taste? Is it criminal?”
The survey, published in the journal Sexual Health, asked 5,805 single adults between the ages of 21 and 75 in the US a range of questions about sexting, with the answers sketching a picture of modern romance.
Of those surveyed, 21 per cent said they had sent explicit text messages, while more than a quarter said they had received them. When it comes to sexual photos, 16 per cent admitted to sending them, while 23 per cent reported receiving them.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, sexting was found to be more prominent among younger users, and men were more likely than women to have sent them.
Professor Garcia said: “For some, sexting may lead to positive outcomes such as increased partner intimacy and satisfaction. For others, it may lead to negative outcomes such as lowered self-esteem or damage to reputation.
"But the real risk is not the sending of sexual messages and images per se, but rather the non-consensual distribution of those materials to other parties. As sexting becomes more common and normative, we’re seeing a contemporary struggle as men and women attempt to reconcile digital eroticism with real-world consequences.”