Why Young People Sext

Why Young People Sext

Tash Bright No Comment

This week our Lets Talk About Sexting campaign takes a look into some of the reasons why young people sext. This campaign aims to raise awareness around the growing concern of young people sexting in order to prevent some unpleasant consequences. Last week we looked into the laws surrounding sexting, which is a good place to start if you are unsure of the  legalities surrounding sexually suggestive images.

Even though young people sexting has quickly become a major concern for teachers, parents/carers and young people themselves, it is important to note that NSPCC research has found that most young people are not sharing sexual imagery of themselves. Despite this, the same research found that over 13% of boys and girls had taken topless pictures of themselves (one in four of those were girls) and 3% had taken fully naked pictures. Out of this group 31% had also shared the image with someone that they did not know.

Research conducted by The Key discovered that school head teacher members placed sexting as a concern higher than drugs, obesity and offline bullying. Similarly, the PSHE Association found that 78% of parents were either fairly concerned or very concerned about youth produced sexual imagery.

With so many people concerned about young people sexting, it is important to look into why young people sext in the first place, so we can better understand what methods may help to reduce the negative consequence that can ensue.

1. Curiosity

Sexting is often the result of young people’s natural curiosity about sex. As young people start taking risks and pushing boundaries as they become more sexually and socially aware, they may produce or share sexual imagery without fully understanding the consequences of what they are doing. Difficulties in defining harmful sexual behaviours displayed by young people are made worse by the general lack of knowledge of childhood sexuality and what constitutes normal behaviour.

In research conducted by Spirto, the majority of young people knew the risks of sexting and they tried to manage these risks by excluding their faces in the images.

Whilst there is no doubt that the online world has created opportunities for young people to explore, experiment, socialise, create and educate themselves in ways which were previously unavailable, it has also exposed young people to the risk of harm, including  from seeing extreme pornography and from sexting.


2. Enhancing Relationships

As young people begin entering into romantic/sexual relationships, they may use sexting as a way of exploring and enhancing their relationship. The instant validation and affirmation that is felt when the messages are received positively is seen as a fun form of flirting and encourages more of the same behaviour.

In cases where consent has been given by both parties, the young people see fewer risks of sharing sexually suggestive images. This is especially the case where the young people trust each other and think they will be with that person forever. Unfortunately, if the relationship ends, the same explicit messages that were shared in confidence are often shared with others in contempt.


3. Having a Laugh

Young people may send each other sexually suggestive pictures as a joke. This could be between friends on apps like Whatsapp or Snapchap. Snapchat is particularly interesting, as it very popular with young people. The common belief with Snapchat is that images/videos you take and upload only stay up for a certain amount of time, then are deleted. This is no longer the case, as most smartphones now have a ‘screenshot’ function, meaning the images can be captured by the recipient. After this, the sender has no control of where the image may end up.


4. Feeling Pressured

Recognising a distinction between young people who willingly seek to make and send sexual images and those who feel some element of coercion is important within gender debates. NSPCC research has shown that girls are effected at a higher rate than boys regarding being pressured or coerced into sending sexual messages. They may find it difficult to say no if somebody asks them for an explicit image, especially if the person asking is persistent.

There is evidence that girls may have more negative sexting experiences, with the potential for partner and peer pressure to make and send images, and the need to negotiate the social and cultural double standards of female sexual reputation if their activities are made public.

Young boys are more likely to feel peer pressure in regards to obtaining sexual images of girls. In the same NSPCC research, boys explained in interviews about how they got ratings for being brave, having money and ‘getting girls’ and were worried about their sexuality being brought into question if they did not follow the group’s actions.

For young people, the ‘stranger danger’ is not the primary technology related threat – it is technology mediated sexual pressure from their peers. Pressures that young people may encounter regarding sending sexually suggestive images can quickly escalate into feeling harassed, threatened or blackmailed into sending pictures.



5. Boosts Self-esteem

For many young people, it is often the case that pictures are produced and shared in the means of boosting their self-esteem. Sending pictures can be can be associated with compliments and affirmation about looking good.

The multi-layered nature of sexual interactions means that sexting has many dimensions and complexities. If a young person is sharing sexual imagery with multiple people, this could be an indication that there are other issues that they need support with.


6. It's Normal

Young people may express the belief that sexting is normal, to the point that if you are in a relationship, it would be weird not to. This point of view is reaffirmed by sexting cases consistently cropping up in the media, as well celebrities saying things like ‘It’s ok to send things as long as you cover your face.’

Issues around female sexting are often linked to broader moral concerns about the sexualisation of girls within popular culture and the pressures they face to live up to gendered sexual ideals.



If you have been affected by any aspect of sexting you can get help from the organisations bellow:

Childline – 0800 11 11 or in an online chat athttp://www.childline.org.uk/Talk/Chat/Pages/OnlineChat.aspx

If parents and carers are concerned about their child, they can contact the NSPCC – 0808 800 5000, by emailing [email protected], or by texting 88858.

They can also ring the Online Safety Helpline by ringing 0808 800 5002.


Here are some great resources to find out more about the issues surrounding sexting.



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