Recent research on the popularity of sexting in the UK, saw 18,122 young people asked about their behaviour around receiving, sending and reciprocating sexually explicit images, videos and/or messages through electronic devices.

The key findings of the study were:

  • 38% had sent sexually explicit images to a partner or person they were speaking with
  • 42% had received sexually explicit images from a partner or person they were speaking with 
  • 48% had sexted with a partner or person they were speaking with

  • 15% had non-consensually forwarded on sexts or sexually explicit content to friends  

The major concern around young people taking sexually explicit images of themselves is that the images can be forwarded to friends or can be posted to a social media platform without consent. This can result in social and emotional consequences for both the person in the image and the person who posted it. This can also include distress, humiliation and reputational damage, as well as online and offline peer harassment and unwanted sexual advances.

What is sexting?

Sexting generally refers to the sending of sexually explicit images or messages via text, social media or direct messaging . For example, this could be a picture of a boy or young man exposing himself or a young woman in a state of undress.

There are many reasons why young people take these sorts of pictures and send them to someone else. It could be that two young people who are in a relationship want to prove their love or commitment to each other. It could be that someone is looking to start a relationship with someone else that they want to show off. They may have been pressured by someone, possibly the person they are sending it to, into sharing a sexual image of themselves. 

The background

Many young people today are comfortable with recording and sharing their lives on social media and are also used to seeing similar content from friends, celebrities and influencers.  

This content can include images of themselves, status updates and messaging friends or group chats.. While this 'finger on the pulse, share all' culture has some benefits, it can create an environment in which teenagers and young people make impulsive decisions without thinking through the possible consequences of their actions.

Oftentimes, they are only a click away from doing something digitally that they would not consider doing in the real world.

the Consequences

Sending sexually explicit messages or images  has the potential to cause problems for the person sending it and it can have serious consequences if the content is shared with others - either by people forwarding it on or uploading it on social media. This could result in immediate consequences, possibly within the school environment and within their friendship group.

There is also the potential for more serious long-term consequences such as if a prospective college, university or employer were to see it. Sending sexual images or videos of anyone under the age of 18, whether it be of yourself to a partner, is technically, in the eyes of the law , distributing an indecent image of a child. This has legal consequences such as a criminal record and a young person's name being placed on the sex offender register.

Top Tips:

  • Remind your child that once an image or video is sent, there is no getting it back. Stress to your child that once they have sent an image, or posted it online, they no longer have control of it and it could end up anywhere. Ask them to think about how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or whole school saw it.
  • Make sure they take responsibility for their actions This includes what they choose to do if they receive a sexually explicit photo. Explain that if they do receive one, they need to delete it immediately. Tell them why they should do this and the consequences of not doing so. Also, make it clear to them what might happen if they send it. It could mean that they are sharing indecent images of children, and lead to them getting into trouble with the police.
  • Talk to your children about sexting and the consequences. Don't wait for something to happen. It is not easy to talk about sex, dating and relationships with teenagers, but it is better to discuss these matters before something serious happens.
  • Discuss the influence of peer pressure. Peer pressure can be a powerful force. Ensure your child knows that you understand that they could be persuaded or forced into sending something. Talk to them about ways to resist peer pressure and making positive decisions. Make sure they understand that no matter how great the pressure becomes, the potential social humiliation and legal consequences could be far worse. Let them know that they can talk to you about this pressure and ways to deal with it.

Resources

'Sexting' in Schools: advice and support regarding self-generated images. what to do and how to handle it.

This guide for schools offers teaching staff practical advice about what to do if sexting happens in school, highlights the steps to be taken and offers examples of best practice through case studies. It gives an overview of the problem and offers an insight into the research and categorisation of sexting incidents. It also highlights some activities that schools can do to address the issues and develop a 'whole school' approach.


That's not cool

This website was created to help young people and their parents understand how mobile phones, instant messaging and online profiles are all digital extensions of them. It aims to give the tools to help people think about what is, or is not, okay in their digital relationships. 

This short video from 'that's not cool' highlights some of the pressures young people might face when it comes to sending sexually explicit pictures. After you have seen it - share it with your children.