The dilemma of ‘sexting’ among adolescents: why do they send half-naked photos?


Sexting or sexting has become a popular phenomenon among boys and girls, as a consequence of the use of TRIC (Relationship, Information and Communication Technologies) in their daily lives. It is also a challenge due to the negative consequences it can have when privacy is not respected when sharing it.

Traditionally, sexting has referred to the sending of sexually suggestive or explicit personal messages (text, emojis, audios), photos or videos using electronic means. Although this behavior has no age, above all we are talking about teenagers who take half-naked photos and share them.

Our recent research indicates that around 8.1% of teens (7% of girls and 9.2% of boys) have sent erotic/sexual content of their own and 21.2% have received it (17. 1% of girls and 25.1% of boys).

This practice usually takes place in a respectful and trusting affective-sexual relationship, with freedom of choice and under consensual agreements. But it does not always happen that way.

This is when the most worrying behavior arises, forwarding or sharing without consent, which occurs when content spreads in groups or virtual social networks and reaches unintended recipients by its protagonist. According to our research, 9.3% of teens have forwarded such content from third parties (6.3% of girls and 12.2% of boys) and 28.4% have received forwards (25.8% of girls and 30.8% of boys).

Why is it practiced?

Faced with the situations described above, social alarm is generated and we wonder why this has happened: why did the victim send a video in which she appeared half-naked? Why did the recipient share it? Why did many others forward it? and even commented on it?

Scientific evidence explains these facts in adolescents and young people based on both individual and group factors. Among the main reasons why one’s own erotic-sexual content is sent include considering it normal between couples, being in continuous contact with the other, showing romantic or sexual interest, forging affective bonds, exploring sexual identity or being part of a relationship. distance. But also to show off, by blackmail, to feel part of the peer group or to meet the expectations of others.

The reaction of others

Forwarding without consent, whether with or without intent to harm, is often accompanied by moral disengagement or justification of harm to third parties and tends to be done primarily to seek recognition or attention from others.

And it is that the way in which others react to these broadcasts plays a fundamental role. At the base of these comments and the chain of forwarding seems to be the lack of understanding of the relational dynamics in virtual environments and the limited collective capacity to identify and understand the harm for those who appear in the broadcast content.

Benefits and disadvantages

The scientific community has provided diverse evidence on the benefits that sexting can bring as a contemporary form of intimate communication, but also on its possible negative consequences as a risky practice.

Among the benefits of these shipments they have highlighted the possibility of expressing desires and limits, the improvement of self-esteem, the increase in sexual satisfaction and greater security than physical sexual activity. These studies emphasize that the risks of sexting are not found in the exchange of content itself, but in its rapid and wide dissemination without consent.

Other studies, however, indicate that these shipments in themselves can have negative consequences if done under pressure, highlighting among them anxiety, depression, alcoholism or criminal behavior. In addition, they highlight its possible relationship with other risks , such as cyberbullying or grooming .

There is consensus between both perspectives that any practice without consent has negative consequences, both for those who practice it and for those who are spectators of these episodes. It also seems clear that its serious consequences are related to the sexual double standard by which viewers judge girls and boys differently. They are expected to be sexually attractive and active, while being censured for it, while men are often socially reinforced for the same acts.

How to protect and react?

The prevalence, normalization and consequences of sexting have shown the need to act against all its behaviors . It is clear that forwarding without consent must be avoided, but it is also necessary to know how to act when receiving this type of content, decide whether to send your own content or not and, if so, how. Therefore, its great complexity requires changes in different directions.

We know that it is necessary to develop specific programs, such as Aseguro , because they have shown a decrease in their negative consequences . Teacher training , family awareness and student participation are essential in these programmes , preventing the actions from consisting of mere talks disconnected from their reality.

It is essential that the work with adolescents and young people start from their own beliefs in order to progressively accompany them in their process of understanding and analyzing the mechanisms of moral disconnection and activation of their conscious decision-making.

A general rethink is needed

Despite the benefits of the specific programs, they do not seem to be enough. It is necessary to rethink psychoeducational actions and assume this new reality that social networks and generational changes pose.

Sexting should be considered, at least, in the coexistence and cyber coexistence projects of educational centers, the protocols and initiatives for the prevention of violence to act against forwarding without consent, affective-sexual education, the specification of curricular competencies , awareness campaigns and training and awareness of professionals and families.

All this will allow us to promote healthy intimate communication and contribute to the safe use of technological tools, something so important for the education and future of adolescents and young people.

Author Bios: Rosario Del Rey is Professor of Developmental and Educational Psychology, Hope hawthorn is a Predoctoral researcher and Monica Ojeda is a Postdoctoral researcher Margarita Salas all at the University of Seville