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Sexting is becoming a widespread phenomenon. It is the exchange messages or “sexts” with explicit sexual content in the form of text, photos or videos through a digital device such as a smartphone. Is it just a bit of fun, or something more dangerous?
The exchange of nude or semi-nude photos is amongst the most common ways of sexting, and is regarded as a form of auto-pornography. According to some researchers, people claim to do it “for fun”, “as a present”, as a form of foreplay or – especially among the young – as a result of peer pressure.
Sexting has been a matter of much debate in recent years and some governments have introduced specific laws regarding it. Part of the problem is that amongst the young population, sexting is increasingly common and in an attempt to explore their sexuality, they could be contributing to the production and possession of child pornography.
But sexting is not only a practice amongst the young. Adults of all ages are also increasingly engaging in sexting. In the media it is a common topic, and glossy magazines encourage women to send sexts to their partners to “spice up the relationship” and provide tips as to how to send “dirty messages” via smartphones. But adults are not exempt from the risks of putting themselves in dangerous situations by sexting.
Is it safe?
Sexting is widely considered as risky behaviour and a growing problem that can cause serious embarrassment and have undesirable social or even legal consequences. For example, sexting can pose a risk for extortion or “sextortion”, harassment and can lead to bullying in the young.
In specific situations, such as harassment after sexting, the law can enforce criminal charges and this has already resulted in criminal prosecutions. If sexting involves a young person, the legal consequences can be very severe as the content may constitute child pornography. However, the laws are not clear in many countries and it can be difficult to use multimedia material to prove accusations.
Bullying among the young is also a delicate matter related to sexting, which has proved difficult to tackle.
Sexting can be a form of intimacy in a relationship and if this intimacy is broken by the partner through sharing with third parties, there can be severe consequences. There have been reported cases of young people committing suicide after their nude photographs had been distributed to others.
These events can also affect the professional opportunities of the people implicated, since they can damage personal reputations.
In a society in which the use of technology is implicated in our most private behaviours, it is necessary to stay informed and educate the young about the possible consequences of sexting.
Once we post material online we relinquish control over it. This content can truly end up anywhere. For this reason, sexting cannot truly be considered safe under any circumstances.
Ferguson, C. (2010). Sexting Behaviors Among Young Hispanic Women: Incidence and Association with Other High-risk Sexual Behaviors Psychiatric Quarterly, 82 (3), 239-243 DOI: 10.1007/s11126-010-9165-8
Mitchell KJ, Finkelhor D, Jones LM, & Wolak J (2012). Prevalence and characteristics of youth sexting: a national study. Pediatrics, 129 (1), 13-20 PMID: 22144706
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