Sexting is the act of sending, receiving or forwarding nude, semi-nude photos, videos and/or sexually explicit messages via cell phones (Diliberto & Mattey, 2009; Jaishankar, 2009). The practice has received media attention primarily because of the potential legal consequences for teens including legal prosecution for the production and/or distribution of child pornography. For teens coming of age, given the current technological climate, text messaging is now used more frequently in romantic relationships not only to flirt and court (Faulkner & Culwin, 2005), but to send and receive sexually explicit messages and photos (Lenhart, 2009; Mitchell, Finkelhor, Jones & Wolak., 2012; MTV & the Associated Press, 2009; Peskin et al., 2013; Strassberg, McKinnon, Sustaita & Rullo, 2013; Temple, Paul.,Van den Berg, McElhany & Temple, 2012).
The primary use of text messaging is to begin, maintain, escalate or in other ways impact interpersonal relationships (Faulkner & Culwin, 2005; Pettigrew, 2009; Thurlow, 2003). Among teens and young adults in romantic relationships, texting is often the preferred form of communication and "acts as a social and emotional pick-me-up, to remind both parties that someone is thinking of them" (Short & McMurray pg. 163, 2009). It is considered to be "more constant and private" than mobile voice interaction (Pettigrew pg. 697, 2009).
Several national studies have documented the extent of sexting among teens and young adults. Estimates of prevalence for sexting vary from 4% to 27.6% for senders and creators and from 7.0% to 46% for recipients (Lenhart, 2009; Mitchell et al., 2012; MTV & the Associated Press, 2009; Peskin et al., 2013; Sex and Tech, 2008; Strassberg et al., 2013). Gordon-Messer, Bauermeister, Grodzinski and Zimmerman (2013) studied a sample of 3,447 young adults (aged 18-24) inquiring about their sexting behavior. These researchers concluded that sexting was not related to sexual risk behavior or psychological wellbeing. Dir, Coskunpinar, Steiner and Cyders (2013) examined sexting expectancies and behaviors in 278 undergraduate students and used a "sexpectancies measure" developed by the researchers. A factor analysis supported that there were both positive and negative expectancies. The researchers found that sexting behavior varied between gender, race, sexual identity and relationship status. Focusing on teens aged 12-17, a 2009 Pew Research Center national study revealed that 4% of teens have sent nude or semi nude photos of themselves via text messaging and 15% had received such a photo (Lenhart, 2009). The 2008 National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy/CosmoGirl.com "Sex and Tech" study of 1,280 of teens and young adults reported that 32% of young adults (20-26) have posted online or sent via text or email nude, or semi nude pictures or videos of themselves and 46% had received one. Similarly the MTV-AP Digital Abuse Study (2009) concluded that 33% of 18-24 year-olds have been involved in some type of naked sexting.
The overwhelming majority of young adult women (83%) and men (75%) who have sent "sext messages" have done so only to a boyfriend or girlfriend (Sex and Tech, 2008). However, in the same study, 21% of young women and 30% of young men have also sent sexually suggestive photos or content to someone they hoped to date or "hook-up with, and 15% of women and 23% of men indicated that they had sent such messages to people they only knew online. Lenhart (2009) suggested that among teens, "sexually suggestive images have become a form of relationship currency and 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."
Temple et al. (2012) analyzed data from 948 public high school students on their dating and sexual behavior (including sexting). Twenty-eight percent of the sample reported having sent a naked picture of themselves through text or e-mail (sext), and 31% reported having asked someone for a sext. More than half (57%) had been asked to send a sext, with most being troubled as a result of having been asked. Adolescents who engaged in sexting behaviors were more likely to have begun dating and to have had sex than those who did not sext (all P
Benotsch, Snipes, Martin and Bull (2013) analyzed Internet questionnaire data on 763 young adults, 44% of whom reported sexting. The researchers compared those who sex texted/sent photos with their nonsexting counterparts. The sexters were more likely to report recent substance use and high-risk sexual behaviors, such as unprotected sex and sex with multiple partners. Of those who engaged in sexting, a considerable percentage (31.8%) reported having sex with a new partner for the first time after sexting with that person.
There are several potentially negative consequences of sexting. While the main reason young adults indicated that they sext was to be "fun or flirtations," to send a "sexy present," or to respond to a sexually provocative message or image they received (Sex and Tech, 2008), some participated less willingly. Eleven percent reported that they felt pressured to send naked photos and 61% who have done so indicated that they have been pressured by someone else to do so at least once (MTV-AP Digital Abuse Study, 2009).
Another risk of sexting is receipt of messages or images by unintended viewers. In the "Sex and Tech" study (2008), approximately one quarter of young adult women and 40% of the young men had received nude or semi-nude images originally meant for someone else. In another study, 17% of 18-24s reported that they had passed nude images on to someone else, with more than half (55%) forwarding them to two or more people (MTV-AP Digital Abuse Study, 2009). The American Psychological Association (APA) (2007) warned that "reputations are harmed, relationships broken, and friendships shattered when receivers of naked images violate senders' trust by sending images on to others." Furthermore Ling and Yttri (2006) concluded that those whose photos are widely distributed might be harassed, victimized or ridiculed. Even innocently intended sexting can cause harm when private photos are publicly disseminated, especially if done with actual malice (Sullivan, 2011). The APA also warns that young people, especially females...