Sharing sexts

Aside from being part of a cluster of risky behaviours, however, there is little evidence that sending sexts is by itself a risky act: for example, one study done with American university students found that many reported positive experiences.

Where harm is most likely to occur is when sexts are shared or forwarded. While a sext that is only ever seen by the original recipient is unlikely to cause any harm, the risks caused by sexts that are seen by others are obvious. Contrary to widespread perceptions that sharing of sexts is rampant, MediaSmarts’ YCWW research found that it is far from normal behaviour: of the 24 percent of students in grades 7-11 with cell phone access who have received a sext directly from the sender, just 15 percent – or four percent of all students in grades 7-11 with cell phone access – have forwarded it to someone else. This means that approximately 85 percent of students who receive a sext created for them keep it private.

However, the YCWW research also suggests that those sexts that are forwarded reach a fairly wide audience: one in five students says that they have received a sext that was forwarded to them by a third party. As with sending sexts, therefore, it would seem that those few students who forward sexts do so often and to multiple recipients. There has been little research into identifying which youth are more likely to forward sexts that they receive, but YCWW findings on the effect of household rules on students’ behaviour provides an interesting insight: while there was in general a strong connection between household rules and student behaviour – and, in particular, that the presence of a household rule on treating others with respect online has a strong association with not being mean or cruel online (and a somewhat weaker but still significant relationship with not making threats online) – there is no relationship between the presence of such a rule and whether or not students forward sexts. It would seem, therefore, that those students who forward sexts do not see whether or not to do so as an ethical question or that they do not see the authors of the sexts as deserving of respect. It’s not clear why this would be, but research that has been done looking at the gendered nature of attitudes towards sexting may provide some important context.

[1] Culp-Ressler, Tara. “Study Finds that Sexting Doesn’t Actually Ruin Students’ Lives.” ThinkProgress, September 10 2013. <>