The name sexting came from joining together the words “sex” and “texting” but has grown to encompasses the recording and sending or sexually suggestive or explicit images through mobile phones and social media platforms such as Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.
Amongst young people in Australia, sexting is a major form of communication, but recent research shows that it’s mostly happening without negative consequences and within existing relationships. The media, politicians, and various groups have all voiced concerns around the risks of sexting as it relates to child pornography and excessive coercion, but the data does not warrant widespread alarm.
A 2015 study found that 13 to 15-year-olds were particularly likely to receive sexual images, but most of this sexting occurred between partners in committed relationships. It’s worth pointing out that most 13 to 15 year olds have seen images of human anatomy already — if they have a TV or computer in their lives, they’ve seen genitalia. Sexting is not just a heterosexual youth fad either. It’s prominent among young homosexual and bisexual respondents.
The main concern with teenagers and sexting is kind of a modern twist on an old problem—gender dynamics. Overseas research found a gendered double standard exists in sexting. Young women and girls usually stand to lose more when ‘consensual’ sexting goes wrong (emotionally, socially, economically) and they’re more likely to feel pressured or coerced into sending an image.
The organization Relationships Australia surveyed over 1,700 people in slightly older age brackets in March 2017 on their sexting habits. 75% of the respondents were female, 85% of the respondents were between 20 to 59 years old, and more than one-third (37%) of the respondents comprised women aged between 30 to 49 years. Most of the respondents were married or in a long-term relationships (28%). Less than a quarter of respondents were not in a relationship.
And these young-to-middle aged mostly attached people are sexting. 54% of the women and 45% of the men reported that they had sent a sexually suggestive message, picture or video of themselves. Most of the men and women (65% and 58%, respectively) say they sext to be fun or flirty. The next biggest motivator for men was in response to a sext they received; for women, it was to send a gift, of sorts.
Some less sexually motivated reasons came up too. 7% of women and 6% of men said they had sexted in the past to get or keep a person’s attention or because they were pressured to (men 1%, women 6%). But just under half of the survey’s respondents said they had not received a sexually suggestive message, picture or video in the past three years, which might mean sexting isn’t all that widespread. And less than a fifth of the respondents said they’d gotten sexts from two to five people—the rest were sexting with one person at a time.
Not surprisingly, men and women in long-term relationships were more likely to send a sexually suggestive message, picture or video than married people (39% vs. 27%). Men and women in a casual relationship or who had just started seeing someone were more likely to sext than not to sext—that’s hardly news either. People who are actively trying to engage a partner are more likely to reach out in lots of ways to the other person, and sexting is an immediate, flashy one.
It’s hard to draw a conclusion about sexting from a few studies, and only a limited number of years of the technology being available. But, from what research we have, it seems like people are not using the technology to exploit others or corrode the moral fabric of society any more than usual. It’s just another method to act out the same human dramas we’ve been playing out for centuries.
(March, 2017) Sexting. Retreived from https://www.relationships.org.au/what-we-do/research/online-survey/march-2017-sexting?utm_source=RA+Survey&utm_campaign=79d6e6df96-RA_Survey_Mar_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_737240dd35-79d6e6df96-291549705
Albury K, Crawford K, Byron P and Mathews B (2013). Young people and sexting in Australia: Ethics, representation and the law. Sydney: ARC
Centre for Creative Industries and Innovation. http://www.cci.edu.au/sites/default/files/Young_People_And_Sexting_Final.pdf
Dobson AS and Ringrose J (2015). Sext education: pedagogies of sex, gender and shame in the schoolyards of Tagged and Exposed. Sexuality, Society and Learning, Volume 16(1)
Lee, M, Crofts, T, McGovern, A. & Milivojevic, S. (2015). Sexting among young people: Perceptions and practices, Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 508. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, December