Written by Makeela Wells
“I won’t show anyone.” These words are usually the next message one would send to encourage another to send inappropriate or sexually suggestive photos. Sexting has gained substantial public and media attention; however, scientific research on sexting behavior has been limited. The purpose of this blog is to understand sexting behaviors among adolescents. The blog will define what behaviors constitute sexting and will examine the consequences of sexting. Lastly, the blog will provide resources for those who have been victimized by sexting.
As society has experienced advances in communication technology, text messaging has become the most popular form of electronic communication among adolescents. A consequence of this easy and exciting form of communication is sexting. Sexting can be defined as behaviors whereby one person sends and/or receives sexually explicit text or photo messages via cellphones (Judge, 2012; Rice, Gibbs, Winetrobe, Rhoades, Plant, Montoya, & Kordic, 2014). Sexting behavior can be voluntary, coercive, and involuntary. Voluntary sexting behavior occurs when one sends sexually explicit messages without being pressured to do so, while coercive sexting behavior takes place through pressure or duress (Judge, 2012). An example of sexting coercion would be an adolescent being persuaded to send sexually suggestive photos to please a significant other or maintain a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Sexting can also be involuntary, whereby sexually suggestive photos are taken without the consent or knowledge of the individual (Pelayo, 2016). The rates of sexting, both receiving and sending sexts, vary, with high school students being more likely to send sexts than middle school students (Rice et al., 2014). The reasons why one engages in sexting may vary. Some individuals view sexting as a way of flirting with significant others. Some may engage in sexting as a way to impress someone he or she may be interested in dating. Individuals may also engage in sexting without their knowledge, due to the fact that they may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs (Judge, 2012).
Consequences of Sexting
The consequences of sexting can range from minor to severe. Social consequences of sexting among adolescents include social isolation from peers. When one’s peers know that he or she has engaged in such behavior, they may resort to ridicule as a way to punish one for his or her behavior (Judge, 2012). Legal consequences may also emerge as a result of sexting. Many adolescents do not know and/or do not understand state laws relating to adolescent sexting (Judge, 2012). Sending and receiving sexually explicit images of a minor can be considered child pornography, regardless of if the perpetrator is an adult or a minor. Additionally, consequences of sexting include depression, absence from school, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and, in severe cases, suicide (Judge, 2012).
Sexting has been linked to adolescents engaging in early sexual behavior. A study conducted by Rice and colleagues (2014) found that 20% of Californian middle school students had received a sext, while 5% had sent a sext. Students who texted roughly 100 times a day were more likely to receive and send sexts. They also found that those who sent a sext were approximately 3 times more likely to be sexually active, and those who received sexts were 7 times more likely to engage in sexual activity (Rice et al., 2014). Early sexual behavior has been linked to both higher rates of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, or STIs.
In conclusion, it is important for both adolescents and parents to understand what behavior constitutes sexting and the consequences associated with such behavior. Sexting is behavior described as sending explicit images and messages to others. It can be either voluntary, coercive, or involuntary and has been found to have negative impacts on the lives of adolescents. Educating individuals on sexting has the potential to decrease sexting behavior among adolescents.
The following is a link for an article published by The Washington Post, detailing a teen’s experience with sexting: “And everyone saw it” by Jessica Contrera.
For more information, see State Sexting Laws and Tips for Dealing with Teen Sexting.
Judge, A.M. (2012). “Sexting” among U.S. adolescents: Psychological and Legal Perspectives. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 20(2), 86-96.
Pelayo, A. (2016). Sexting: what it is, who it affects, and how it affects them. High School Insider, Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://highschool.latimes.com/st-genevieve-high-school/sexting-what-it-is-who-it-affects-and-how-it-affects-them/.
Rice, E., Gibbs, J., Winetrobe, H., Rhoades, H., Plant, A., Montoya, J., & Kordic, T. (2014). Sexting and sexual behavior among middle school students. Pediatrics, 134(1), 21-28.
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Jessica Utley
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor