We are truly in the digital era. Gone are the days when the beginning of adolescent foreplay meant making out with a side of heavy petting. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, sexting is so normal among teens today that it's the new first base.

That may seem terrifying to the parents and pearl clutchers among us, but while sexting is linked to sexual behavior, it doesn't necessarily mean that teens who sext are more likely to engage in risky IRL sexual behavior or have even engaged in sexual behavior at all.

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The study aimed to find whether sexting preceded actual sexual behavior or vice versa, looking at two years in particular of a six-year study of high school students in southeast Texas who anonymously self-reported their history of sexual activity and history of sexting.

The study found that teens who sexted (asking or being asked for a nude picture) were more likely to have engaged in sexual behavior within the year, but not necessarily risky sexual behavior. The study's author Jeff Temple, associate professor and psychologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, said, via Washington Post:

"Sexting preceded sexual behavior in many cases," Temple said. "The theory behind that is sexting may act as a gateway or prelude to sexual behaviors or increases the acceptance of going to the next level."

So what do parents and educators do with this news? Use it for good, Temple said. "I think the really cool thing about this study in answering the question of what comes first is … this could hold the key to prevention programs." If a teen is found to have sent a sext, that behavior could be a way to talk to them and promote healthy sexual behaviors, he said.

So if sexting is the new first base, we may need to drop the whole baseball metaphor and find something that's a bit more in touch with the younger crowd. Like Angry Birds? Candy Crush? Kids like that shit, right?

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