Gender differences

MediaSmarts’ YCWW research found that sexting has other aspects that are gendered in interesting ways. While boys were more likely than girls to say that they had received a sext from the sender (32 percent compared to 17 percent of girls) and were slightly more likely to have forwarded a sext sent directly to them (16 percent compared to 12 percent of girls), they were more likely to have had a sext they sent forwarded (26 percent compared to 20 percent of girls).

Boys were also much more likely to have received a sext forwarded by someone other than its creator (28 percent compared to 14 percent of girls). This provides support for the notion that boys feel a pressure from peers to share sexts that they receive; some qualitative research, for instance, found that boys feared that they would be subject to homophobic teasing if they refused to share sexts they had been sent.[1] Moreover, studies about the gendered aspects of sexting consistently show that while little criticism is attached to boys who send sexts, girls who do so are perceived as sexually immoral: girls who sext are seen as using their sexuality to get public attention, while boys – even if their sexts become public – are assumed to be doing it only to get the attention of one prospective partner.[2]

This might explain why those who forward sexts don’t appear to see it as an ethical issue: girls who send sexts are seen as having transgressed appropriate genders roles and, therefore, have given up the right to expect that their images will not be shared or forwarded. Some researchers have found that girls may face social sanctions around sexting whether they send sexts or not: University of Michigan sexting researchers Scott Campbell and Julia Lippman found that “boys in our study described girls who did send sexts as ‘sluts’ or ‘insecure,’ whereas they characterized girls who did not send sexts as ‘prude’ or ‘stuck up’… sexting is a lose–lose proposition for girls; regardless of whether or not they sext, their behaviour is evaluated in harsh—and often sexist—terms.”[3]

Gender roles may also contribute to sharing sexts being seen as a positive act, both as a sanction on inappropriate behaviour by girls and as something that is rewarded by status among boys (some studies have shown that boys gain status by sharing and forwarding sexts that were sent to them).[4] This may also shed some light on YCWW findings that boys’ sexts are actually more likely to be forwarded than girls’: it is possible that because boys’ sexting is not seen as wrong in the way that girls’ is, there is less reluctance to share them. It is also possible that boys’ sexts are less likely to contain identifying features; since there’s little evidence that boys’ sexts are used to gain status by girls in the way that girls’ are used by boys, there is less motivation for girls to request that boys include their face in the photo as proof of its origins. Given that other research has shown that LGBTQ youth are more likely to sext, it is also possible that gay young men are sharing and forwarding sexts at a higher rate.

[1] Walker 2012.
[2] Peskin, Melissa Fleschler, Christine M. Markham, Robert C. Addy, Ross Shegog, Melanie Thiel, and Susan R. Tortolero. “Prevalence and Patterns of Sexting Among Ethnic Minority Urban High School Students.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking 16.6 (2013): 454-59. Print.
[3] Madrigal, Alexis C. “On Teen Sexting: Same Sexism, Different Technology.” The Atlantic, June 18 2014.
[4] Ringrose et al 2013.