Sending sexts

Since sexting – and, in particular, our concerns about it – are regularly portrayed as a largely female phenomenon, it may be surprising that data from MediaSmarts’ study Non-Consensual Sharing of Sexts: Behaviours and Attitudes of Canadian Youth study show boys and girls being about equally likely to send sexts of themselves.[1]

Additionally, boys are significantly more likely than girls to be sent a sext they had asked for – 46 percent of boys aged 16-20 reported this compared to 39 percent of girls – while 54 percent of girls had received a sext they did not ask for, compared to 48 percent of boys.[2]

Although only about one in six teen girls who have sent sexts say they did so because they felt pressured,[3] those that did are three times more likely to report having problems as a result (32% compared to 8% of non-pressured sexters.)[4]

While sexting has become increasingly seen as a normal and potentially healthy behaviour when kept within a consensual relationship,[5] girls’ and boys’ sexts are definitely still seen differently: images of women’s bodies are seen as inescapably sexual, while men’s may be sexual, comic, or even aggressive depending on the context.[6] As a result, women tend to take more steps to limit the potential impact of their sexts being made public, creating “plausible deniability” by sending photos that were titillating but not explicit or by covering or cropping out anything that might identify them such as their faces, body markings like tattoos, and background details that would show where the photo was taken.[7]

Why young people send sexts

Typically, youth sexting occurs in three contexts: in lieu of sexual activity for younger adolescents who are not yet physically sexually active; to show interest in someone a teen would like to date; and, for sexually active youth, as proof of trust and intimacy.

Exchanging sexual images may also be part of “truth or dare” game-playing among younger adolescents or goofing around while mimicking “sexy” media images. Young people may also send sexts because they find it exciting to take risks, because they feel pressure from their friends or peers, or because they have seen depictions of sexting in mass media.[8] Some youth may also send sexts that the receiver didn’t ask for as a joke or as harassment.[9] However, it’s important to remember that sexting is not only a youth phenomenon, with 8 out of 10 adults surveyed in a 2015 study having admitted to sexting in the prior year.[10]

Even though many young people consider this practice as “nothing important,” some, particularly girls, may feel forced to provide such pictures and “nothing important” can quickly become “something important” if intimate images and messages are distributed to a wider audience. One 2018 study of youth in sexting, discovered that nonconsensual sexting is rising with “12.5% (1 in 8) of youth reporting that they have forwarded a sext.”[11] This nonconsensual sharing can have dire consequences to those whose images were shared, as unfortunately, the victims are the ones stereotypically blamed by peers for sending the images in the first place instead of those sharing those intimate photos without consent.[12]

 

 

[1] Johnson, M., Mishna, F., Okumu, M., Daciuk, J. (2018). Non-Consensual Sharing of Sexts: Behaviours and Attitudes of Canadian Youth, Ottawa: MediaSmarts.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Lee, M., & Crofts, T. (2015). Gender, pressure, coercion and pleasure: Untangling motivations for sexting between young people. British Journal of Criminology, 55(3), 454-473.

[4] Englander, E. K., & McCoy, M. (2016). Gender Differences in Pressured Sexting.

[5] Madigan, S., Ly, A., Rash, C. L., Van Ouytsel, J., & Temple, J. R. (2018). Prevalence of multiple forms of sexting behavior among youth: A systematic review and meta-analysis. 327JAMA pediatrics, 172(4), -335.

[6] Salter, M. (2016). Privates in the online public: Sex (ting) and reputation on social media. New media & society, 18(11), 2723-2739.

[7] Renfrow, D. G., & Rollo, E. A. (2014). Sexting on campus: Minimizing perceived risks and neutralizing behaviors. Deviant Behavior, 35(11), 903-920.

[8] Souza, L., & Lordello, S. R. M. (2020). Sexting and Gender Violence Among Young People: An Integrative Literature Review. Psicologia: Teoria e Pesquisa, 36.

[9] Hayes, R. M., & Dragiewicz, M. (2018, November). Unsolicited dick pics: Erotica, exhibitionism or entitlement?. In Women’s Studies International Forum (Vol. 71, pp. 114-120). Pergamon.

[10] (2015) How Common is Sexting? American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/08/common-sexting

[11] Ly, A et al (2018) Prevalence of Multiple forms of sexting behaviour among youth. JAMA Pediatrics. 172:4, p.327-335

[12] Naezer, M (2021). Only sluts love sexting: youth, sexual norms, and nonconsensual sharing of digital sexual images. Journal of Gender Studies. 30:1, pp. 79-90