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Teens Are Not Sexting More – Or Less

In the first study in nearly a decade, researchers discovered adolescent “sexting” is not at epidemic levels, but neither has it declined  despite preventive efforts. Overall, the practice of sexting was found to occur among a small percentage of teens.

The term sexting is commonly used to describe incidents where teenagers take nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves and exchange that content via text or private social media messages.

Although the intent is to share the images with trusted romantic partners, these pictures also can find their way into the hands of others.

While national studies have contributed to the understanding of sexting behavior among minors, the prevalence estimates are dated (prior to January 2011), and therefore little is known about its frequency and scope on a national level in recent years.

In the new study, researchers at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire provide a much-needed update to what is currently known about the nature and extent of sexting among youth today.

Researchers examined prevalence rates for sending and receiving sexually explicit images or video among a nationally-representative sample of 5,593 American middle and high school students (ages 12 to 17).

The investigators focused only on explicit images and videos (as some previous studies have conflated the picture by also including explicit texts) in order to isolate those experiences that have the greatest potential for problematic outcomes.

The results, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, show that across all sociodemographic variables explored, the vast majority of students were not participating in sexting.

Approximately 14 percent of middle and high school students had received a sexually explicit image from a boyfriend or girlfriend, while 13.6 percent said they received such an image from someone who was not a current romantic partner. About 11 percent of students reported sending a sext to a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Interestingly, most of the students who were asked by a current boyfriend or girlfriend to send a sext complied (63.9 percent). Among those students who were asked to send a sext by someone who was not a current romantic partner, only 43 percent complied.

Males were significantly more likely to have sent and received a sext from a current romantic partner. However, males and females were equally likely to receive them from someone who was not a current boyfriend or girlfriend. Female students were more likely to have been asked to send a sext by someone who was not a current romantic partner (14.3 percent), but only 34.1 percent complied.

Among the different racial groups examined, no statistically significant differences emerged with regard to sexting participation. As expected, older youth were more likely to both send and receive sexts. Students who identified as non-heterosexual were significantly more likely to be involved in sexting in all its forms.

With regard to frequency, about one-third of the students who sent or received explicit messages did so only once. Most commonly, students engaged in these behaviors “a few times.” Fewer than 2 percent of all students said they had sent a sext “many times,” while 2.6 percent said they had received sexts “many times.”

Overall, about 4 percent of students said they shared an explicit image sent to them with another person without their permission, and the about same number believed an image of them was shared with others without permission.

This practice can lead to instances of “sextortion.”

Males were more likely to have shared an image and were more likely to believe an image they sent had been shared with others without permission. Non-heterosexual students were approximately twice as likely to have shared an image with others and to believe their image had been shared with others without permission.

It also appears that 15-year-olds were the most likely to have shared a sext and to believe a sext of them was shared without permission.

“Findings from our study provide a very important message for youth who may believe media headlines that suggest sexting is more widespread than it actually is,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at FAU. Hinduja co-authored the study with Justin Patchin, Ph.D., a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.

“Showing adolescents clear evidence that a relatively small proportion of teens engage in sexting could actually result in decreased overall participation since it underscores that it is not as normal, commonplace, or widespread as they might believe.”

Source: Florida Atlantic University


Teens Are Not Sexting More – Or Less

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Teens Are Not Sexting More – Or Less. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 18 Jul 2019 (Originally: 18 Jul 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 18 Jul 2019
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