Sexting, or the distribution of sexually suggestive nude or nearly-nude images, has garnered increased media attention in recent years. While this is a topic of concern, results from the survey show that the vast majority of teen cell phone owners have not sent or received messages of this nature. Only 4% reported that they have sent these types of images or videos of themselves, and 15% said they have received a "sext" from someone they know. Older teens were more likely to report receiving sext messages than younger teens, with 18% of those 14-17 as opposed to 6% of the 12 and 13 year-olds reporting this. There were no differences between boys (15%) and girls (14%) in receipt of sexts. Furthermore, teens who are more frequent users of cell phones are more likely to receive sexually suggestive images.
Focus group findings show that sexting occurs most often in one of three scenarios:
Exchanges of images solely between two romantic partners
Exchanges of images between partners that are then shared outside the relationship
Exchanges of images between people who are not yet in a relationship, but where often one person hopes to be.
Teens explained how sexually suggestive images have become a form of relationship currency. These images are shared as a part of or instead of sexual activity, or as a way of starting or maintaining a relationship with a significant other. They are also passed along to friends for their entertainment value, as a joke, for revenge or for fun.
Some teens also described the pressure they feel to share these types of images. One high school girl wrote:
- When I was about 14-15 years old, I received/sent these types of pictures. Boys usually ask for them or start that type of conversation. My boyfriend or someone I really liked asked for them, and I felt like if I didn’t do it, they wouldn’t continue to talk to me. At the time, it was no big deal. But now, looking back, it was definitely inappropriate and over the line.
Although this is not a pervasive teen practice, sexting can create serious problems for those involved in it. The desire for risk-taking and sexual exploration during the teenage years, combined with a constant connection via mobile devices, creates a "perfect storm" for sexting. Teenagers have always grappled with issues around sex and relationships, but their coming-of-age mistakes and transgressions have never been so easily transmitted and archived for others to see.