A New Study’s Surprising Revelations About Sexting

If you have a teenage daughter, you’ve probably read some articles, had some back-to-school-night discussions, or talked with fellow parents about the uneasy topic of sexting.

In an age where the Internet “never forgets” and media-savvy universities and potential employers turn their eyes to Google in vetting applicants, girls can jeopardize their futures in a smartphone flash.

If you’re not sure what to do or how to approach a conversation with your teenager about this topic, a new article published in The Journal of Children and Media offers some insights. Letting your daughter in on just one of the following statistics could be enough to help change her thinking and actions.

In “Damned If You Do, Damned if You Don’t … If You’re a Girl: Relational and Normative Contexts of Adolescent Sexting in the United States,” researchers synthesize existing research with their own findings to explore the motivations for and consequences of sexting. Some of their conclusions may surprise you. Some, unfortunately, may not.

1. It seems like “everyone is doing it,” but sexters are in the minority.

The media portrays sexting as an epidemic and lunchtime chatter at school makes sexting seem like the norm. However, the authors highlight two different studies that each concluded that 4% or fewer of cellphone-owning teens sent these types of photos.

 2.   Girls are “no more—or at best, only slightly more—likely than boys” to sext.

Multiple studies point to similar rates of sexting among boys and girls, but media attention tends to focus on female participation.

3. Many teens do understand the consequences of sexting.

Teens surveyed pointed to legal implications, conflicts with parents, getting into trouble at school, and “trouble” in general as potential consequences of sexting. Social consequences, including damage to reputation and unwanted publication of photos, were among those most commonly noted.

4. Social pressure drives teens to sexting despite knowledge of the consequences.

Researchers point to the fact that girls felt especially pressured to send nude photos. Certain respondents “felt pressure from boys to send sexts and believed that sending them was the undesirable price they had to pay for a desirable relationship.”

5. Boys criticize girls for sexting and for not sexting.

While sexting is associated with improved social status among boys, girls experience negative consequences either way. In the age-old tradition of sexual double standards, girls who sexted were labeled by boys as “sluts” or “insecure” while girls who didn’t sext were seen as “stuck up” or “prude.”

6. Girls who sext face judgment by their female peers.

Importantly, criticism of young women comes by way of both their male and female peers. Girls perceived other girls who engage in sext as not having self-respect. As one study participant articulated, “sometimes I wonder how girls can send naked pics to a boy. I think it’s gross. They’re disrespecting themselves.”

These findings can inform our conversations with young people about sexting and gender roles in general. Sharing these insights with young women can help lessen the pressure they feel to participate. Knowing that people who sext are in the minority and also that sexting ultimately provides little or no social benefit, may make them rethink sending a risque photo. For boys and girls, sexting provides a relatable example of gender biases at work in society. Conversations on this topic can inspire both sexes to examine their parts in creating and reinforcing double standards. Armed with new critical perspectives and information, teens are better equipped to affect change in their peer groups.

The paper is written in accessible language and packed with additional interesting facts. You can find the full text here.

Will you use this new information to have a discussion with your daughter? 

Published on: June 24, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Kimberly Wolf, M.Ed.

Kimberly is the Founder of Girlmentum.com, an online platform delivering integrative health, beauty, and lifestyle information to adolescent girls. Meeting girls "where they are," on their smartphones, tablets, and laptops, Girlmentum offers girls opportunities to explore their most pressing and private questions on topics including mental health, sexual health, relationships, and body image.

Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.
Add your comment

Recent Comments

My teen has a steady boyfriend, but is having an emotional affair with another boy who is inappropriately texting. I can see that my daughter enjoys the attention and flirts back. I don’t believe she has to be in a serious relationship, but I can’t convince her of how her actions are unfair to her boyfriend and disrespectful to all involved including her. I asked if she wanted to be in her current relationship and she said yes. Am I over thinking this?