Let’s get the definition out first. Sexting is sending of sexually explicit messages or images via mobile devices. In case you’re wondering, yes, it is very common, especially among teens and young adults. But very rarely do people talk about it. So how do we know that it is quite common?
A study presented at the American Psychological Association’s 123rd Annual Convention surveyed 870 participants from the United States, aged between 18 and 82 to assess sexting behaviors. And, 88 per cent of them reported they have sexted and 82 per cent had sexted in the past year.
And, here’s the interesting thing.
About three-fourths said they sexted in the context of a committed relationship. Less than half or 43 per cent said they sexted as a part of a casual relationship.
People who sexted more saw their behavior as more fun and had higher beliefs that it was expected in their relationships. So, most believe that it’s very much integral to their relationship.
So, it’s clear that people do engage in sexting and it’s normal in healthy relationships.
Sexting, a part of adolescent sexual development?
A similar study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch contend that sexting may be the new “normal” part of adolescent sexual development.
“For instance, sexting may be associated with other typical adolescent behaviors such as substance use. Sexting is not associated with either good or poor mental well being,” Jeff Temple, an associate professor and psychologist at UTMB, said.
Hye Jeong Choi, a postdoctoral research fellow at UTMB, said, “Sending a nude photo may communicate to the recipient a level of openness to sexual activity, promote a belief that sex is expected, and serve to increase sexual advances, all of which may increase the chance of future sexual behavior. Sexting may serve as a gateway behavior to actual sexual behaviors or as a way to indicate one’s readiness to take intimacy to the next level.”
Is there harm in sexting?
Yes, there is.
Dr. Amy Hasinoff, a professor of Communication at CU Denver, in her book Sexting Panic, argues that the most concerning aspect of teenage sexting is the malicious distribution of private images.
The inability of policies to differentiate consensual sharing and the malicious distribution of a private image is also a big problem.
So how do you tackle the issue? Here are some tips on..
What to say to teens about sexting
- Teach young people to recognize and respect consent in themselves and others.
- Talk about (and respect) teens’ norms and expectations of privacy on the internet and mobile phones in different contexts. Focus on discouraging privacy violations.
- Be a role model for the importance of digital privacy. Monitoring kids’ texts (or reading their diaries) sends the wrong message that privacy violations are ok.
- Discuss sexting’s similarity to other sexual activities; talk about sexual ethics, consent, and respect between partners.
- Discuss rape culture, shaming, homophobia, and the sexual double standard. Work with young people to collectively develop ongoing strategies to resist gender- and sexuality-based harassment and bullying.
- Think about the potential legal consequences (to the victims and the perpetrators) before reporting sexting to law enforcement, though consider any applicable mandatory reporting laws or policies.
What not to say to teens about sexting
- Don’t simply prohibit sexting – Around one-third of teens are going to sext even if they’re told not to. We know abstinence-only sex ed has failed to reduce rates of unplanned pregnancy and STIs, so we can guess that abstinence-only sexting policies will fail, too.
- Avoid the scare tactic of warning teens not to sext because all sexts will eventually be distributed – When teens hear the message that “all sexts will be distributed,” many will tune out because that doesn’t match up with their experience. Studies show that around 10 percent of private images are distributed without permission.
- Don’t tell teens whose private images have been distributed that their future job and college prospects are ruined and that their images are being viewed by child molesters – This creates unnecessary fear and shame. In cases in which images are distributed among peers without permission, they are very rarely ever uploaded to public websites.
- Avoid telling girls that abstaining from sexting proves and preserves their self-respect and self-esteem. This perpetuates shaming and blaming the victim.