Sexting Research

It’s not quite clear how prevalent Sexting is.
  • Between 4% of cell-owners ages 12 to 17 have sent sexually suggestive images of themselves by phone and 15% of cell owners that age have received “sexts” containing images of someone they know. (Lenhart, 2009) to 20% of teens had sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves via cell phones or the Internet, and 33% sent sexually suggestive messages (Sex and Tech, 2008).

  • Almost 30% of respondents stated that images or videos meant for someone else had been shared with them. (Sex and Tech, 2008).

  • Sext Senders are more likely to be girls (65% girls vs. 35% boys) and more likely to be older (61% ages 16-18, 39% ages 13-15)

  • Teens are more likely to think people their age are old enough to decide for themselves whether sexting is all right (76% vs. 54% for teens overall) and more likely to think adults overreact when teens send sexually suggestive text message and emails to each other (67% vs. 48% for teens overall)

  • Three in 10 friends of sext senders say the photos were forwarded to someone

  • About three-quarters of teens think that sexting with photos of someone under 18 is wrong (Cox Communications, 2009)

Why do they do it?

PEW researchers concluded that Sexting occurs most often in one of three scenarios:
  • Exchanges of images solely between two romantic partners (60% of senders and 75% of receivers)

  • Exchanges between partners that are then shared outside the relationship

  • Exchanges between people who are not yet in a relationship, but where often one person hopes to be.

Teens sext because of the following reasons:
  • Peer pressure (over 23% of teens)

  • Pressured by a boyfriend to send or post sexually explicit material (over 50% of teen girls) (Sex and Tech, 2008))

  • The effect of the media on teens’ attitudes and beliefs about sex, as well as their behavior. Teenagers “that everyone out there is having sex but them . . . .” (Arcabascio, 2010). In addition, Teens do not evaluate risks and benefits of risky conduct as quickly as adults )

  • 66% of females responded that they sexted “to be fun and flirtatious”)

  • Teen sexting provides one more way for teens to individuate from family, gain peer approval and explore their sexuality. (McLaughlin, 2010))


In many States in the U.S. Sexting is still considered pornography and adolescents are often charged with felony child pornography charges. Under existing US child pornography laws there are many different ways to charge a teen with “sexting”:
  • A teen sending a nude or semi-nude photo to another person can be charged with possession or dissemination of child pornography.

  • The recipient of such a photo can be charged with possession of child pornography simply because the digital image is on his or her phone.

  • The initial recipient can be charged with child pornography if he or she forwards the digital image to anyone else.
Depending on the state in which they live and the crime with which they are charged, some minors run the risk of being placed on their state’s sex offender registry. (Arcabascio, 2010). It is quite obvious that these penalties have nothing to do with the age and mindset of those engaged in sexting. However, a sixteen or seventeen-year-old who abuses or exploits a child by taking sexually explicit photographs and distributing them for profit as a child pornographer should be charged under child pornography laws and prosecuted as child offenders.

Recent efforts and legislation are aimed at creating legislation with penalties that differentiates between “innocent” teen sexting to abusing young children by the distribution of sexual images, possibly for a profit. And many states in the US are struggling to determine the proper response to the issues that have arisen in prosecuting children for child pornography.

Another issue that is discussed in the literature has to do with the breadth of prosecutorial discretion. It appears that that prosecutors across the US are dealing with sexting cases in an inconsistent way.

Some researchers feel that legislation aside, parents rather than prosecutors should be the ones responsible for educating teens about the consequences of sexting. Parents have a duty to protect their children and are in the best position to punish them accordingly. Parents can make sexting more difficult by removing or restricting texting capabilities on their children’s phones. (Arcabascio, 2010).

In Canada offence occurs when youth distributes the photograph via cell phone communications .This is because when the imagery is distributed it is now classified as child pornography and whether the photograph depicts nudity for a sexual purpose is a determinant factor of the offence. (Sharicka 2009)

The consequences of Sexting

Some researchers argue that sharing sexual content can be beneficial for teens. The Internet provides a relatively safe space for teens to explore and define themselves as sexual beings (Stern, 2002).

But the concerns are greater than the benefits:
  • Sexual content posted by teens may prompt the perception among teen viewers that sex is normal, even glamorous, and risk-free (Moreno et al., 2009a).

  • Teens engage in sexting due to the fact that they believe their cell phones are private domain although most are unaware of the consequences. (Sharicka 2009)

  • User-generated sexual content may increase the pressure virginal teens feel to become sexually active. (Moreno et al. (2009b)

  • Young people, especially girls, who share provocative or sexual imagery of themselves, engage in a form of self-objectification in which young people "learn to think of and treat their own bodies as objects of others' desires." In so doing, young people may "internalize an observer's perspective on their physical selves and learn to treat themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated for their appearance" (American Psychological Association, 2007, p. 18). Reputations are harmed, relationships broken, and friendships shattered when receivers of naked images violate senders' trust by sending the images on to others.


Arcabascio, C. (2010), Sexting and Teenagers: OMG R U Going 2 Jail???, XVI Rich. J.L. & Tech. 10 Retrieved July 4, 2010 from

Brown, J. D., Keller S., & Stern, S. (2009). "Sex, sexuality, sexting, and sexed: adolescents and the media." The Prevention Researcher 16.4: 12+. Academic OneFile. Web. 1 July 2010.

Cox Communications (2009). Teen Online and Wireless Safety survey: Cyberbullying, sexting, and parental controls. Research findings. Retrieved July 5, 2010 from

Diliberto, G.M. & Mattey, Elizabeth, Sexting: Just How Much of a Danger Is It and What Can School Nurses Do About It? NASN School Nurse; Nov 2009; 24, 6; ProQuest Health and Medical Complete pg. 262

Lenhart, A. (2009). “Teens and Sexting”, A Pew Internet & American Life Project Report, Retrieved July 4, 2010 from

McLaughlin, J.H., (2010) :Crime and Punishment: Teen Sexting in Context" ExpressO Available at:

Reid, S. (2009). Facebook, Youth, ‘Sexting’, and Implications of Social Interaction, Sharicka 100312360, Youth Cultures SSCI 2025, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, & (2008) “Sex and Tech: Results from a survey of teens and young adults”. Retrieved July 4, 2010 from

Walker, J.T. & Moak, S. (2010). “Child’s Play or Child Pornography: The Need for Better Laws Regarding Sexting”, AJCS Today 35(1): 1-9.


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