While many teens send them deliberately, perhaps the most extreme example of a breach of a teen’s privacy is the sharing of sexually suggestive images beyond the intended recipient. As we have reported in the past, parents, educators, and advocates are deeply concerned about the practice of “sexting,” or the creating, sharing, and forwarding of sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images by minor teens.
Previous Pew Internet Project research has focused on the cell phone as a site of this activity, and these new findings, which are technology agnostic, expand upon that work. In our 2009 report, we identified three scenarios in which sexting most often occurs among teens:
- Exchanges of images solely between two romantic partners
- Exchanges between partners that are then shared outside the relationship
- Exchanges between people who are not yet in a relationship, but where often one person hopes to be.
In the current study, just 2% of all teens ages 12-17 say they have sent a “sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video” of themselves to someone else. That represents 3% of all teen cell users and has remained stable since 2009 when 4% of teen cell users answered a similar question. A much larger segment of the teen population – 16% of all teens and 18% of cell users – say they have received a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video of someone else they know. By comparison, in 2009, 15% cell-owning teens said they had received such images of someone they know.
As was the case in 2009, there are no significant gender or age differences among those who say they have sent a sexually suggestive message. However, in a trend that is also consistent over the past two years, older teens are much more likely than younger teens to say that they have received a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video of someone they know; 21% of older teen cell users report this, compared with just 6% of those ages 12-13. Boys and girls across all age groups are equally likely to receive a sexually suggestive photo or video.