When asked why they share nude pictures, many said it was a natural way of exploring their sexuality and something they did with a trusted partner.
The study found that sending nude photos did not always mean the teen had started having sex, but it was a way to explore their sexuality.
‘The problem is how do we differentiate between sexting, which we may not like or approve of but is taking place in the context of a consensual romantic relationship, from something which we really need to take seriously?’
Researchers questioned people aged 15 to 25, who had all shared naked photos when they were under 18.
They found that 73 per cent sent images because they were asked to, either by their partner or a stranger. Some admitted they had been asked to send images as proof of their love and found it hard to say no.
Nearly 60 per cent said they sent nude pictures because it was fun, exciting and a good way to meet people and flirt.
And 47 per cent said they sent them to get attention and compliments about their looks, with girls saying it helped build self-confidence.
Most nude images were not shared beyond the intended recipient. But 16 per cent said their parents and the school had found out, and 22 per cent said the selfies were shown to their peers, sometimes leading to harassment, threats or bullying.
Eight per cent said their need to send naked images was affecting their school work or social life.