One in 10 children ages 10 to 17 say they've used a cellphone to send or receive sexually suggestive images, but only 1 in 100 has sent images considered graphic enough to violate child pornography laws, the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire study found.
The results, published in the journal Pediatrics, are based on phone interviews with 1,560 children across the country, the researchers said.
All told, 149 youths, or 9.6 percent, said they sent or received images that included full or partial nudity in the previous year, the study found.
Just over 2 percent of those who engaged in so-called sexting said they had appeared in the pictures or had taken them themselves, and 7.1 percent said they received sexual images from someone else.
An earlier, often-cited Pew Research Center study estimated as many as one in five teenagers engaged in sexting -- but it included 18- and 19-year-olds, which researchers said likely increased the overall prevalence.
The new study said the motivations for sending or forwarding sexual texts were generally not malicious.
Most of the youths said they did it with someone with whom they had a relationship or in whom they had a romantic interest.
Despite sexting's reputation as a teenage pastime, surveys now suggest it is actually more common among young adults than children, New Hampshire researchers said.
"It only takes one or two cases to make people think this is very prevalent behavior," study author Janis Wolak said in a university release.
"This has been reported as if it were something that everyone was doing -- not just in the teen population, but in the young adult population. It's really not the case."