Gender differences

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 being 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. [1]

This might explain why those who share sexts don’t appear to consider it to be 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.” [2]

Gender roles 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). [3] MediaSmarts’ research [4] has found that holding traditional attitudes on gender, such as believing that “men should be more interested than women in sex” and “a woman cannot be truly happy unless she is in a relationship” has a powerful association with how likely youth were to have shared someone’s sexts: half (53%) of those who believed strongly in traditional gender stereotypes had shared a sext, compared to just over a sixth (18%) who had more neutral beliefs and only one in ten (9%) of those who did not believe in them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this effect was more powerful among the boys and young men in the study, but it was significant among the girls and young women as well.

[1] 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.
[2] Madrigal, Alexis C. “On Teen Sexting: Same Sexism, Different Technology.” The Atlantic, June 18 2014.
[3] Ringrose, J., Harvey, L., Gill, R. and Livingstone, S. (2013) Teen girls, sexual double standards and ‘sexting’: Gendered value in digital image exchange, Feminist Theory 2013.
[4] Johnson, M., Mishna, F., Okumu, M., Daciuk, J. Non-Consensual Sharing of Sexts: Behaviours and Attitudes of Canadian Youth, Ottawa: MediaSmarts, 2018.