Sexting: 7 Facts You Need to Know

My work at Covenant Eyes exposes me to a lot of depressing statistics. In the last year or two there’s been a lot of information about the prevalence of “sexting” (electronically sending or posting nude or partially nude photos of yourself).

The most accurate studies tell us that while most teens do not send sexts, it is a very visible problem among teens (13-17 years old) today. Also, sexting is more common among young adults than among teens.

Stats on Young Adult Sexting

1. About 20% of young adults send sexts.

According to the Executive Summary of the MTV-AP report about 19% of 18-24-year-olds sext. According to a National Campaign survey, for 20-26-year-olds, this could be as high as 33%.

Stats on Teen Sexting

2. About 8% of teens have sent a sext.

One study liberally estimated 20% of teens (13-19) have sexted, but this came from a nonprobability online panel, which means it may not represent the general populace. A more conservative study from Pew Internet says 8% of 17-year-olds have sexted. According to the executive summary of the most recent MTV-AP survey, about 7% of 14-17-year-olds have sexted. Another nonprobability survey also reported the more conservative estimate of 9% of 13-18-year-olds.

3. About 16% of teens have received a sext.

Conservative estimates from Pew Internet indicate 15% of cell-owning teens (ages 12-17) say they have received sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude images of someone they know. The results show a steady increase as kids get older: 4% of 12-year-olds receiving these images compared to 20% of 16-year-olds and 30% of 17-year-olds. The Cox survey found similar results: 17% of teens (ages 13-18) have received a sext.

4. Most sexts are sent to boyfriends or girlfriends.

In one survey, 69% of teen sexters (13-19) identified a boyfriend or girlfriend as the recipient; 60% of teen sexters (13-18) said the same in the Cox survey; as did 59% of sexters in the MTV-AP survey. Sexts are also sent to people whom the sexter is interested in dating. In the National Campaign survey, 30% of teen sexters said they have sent them to “someone I wanted to date or hook up with”; 18% said the same in the MTV-AP survey; 21% in the Cox survey said they have sent sexts to “someone I had a crush on.”

The Harms of Sexting:

5. Sexting has legal consequences in some cases.

On several occasions, teens who have sent, received, or forwarded nude images have actually faced child porn charges—a felony crime. While some states have downgraded the law to classify sexting as a misdemeanor, in most places this is not the case.

6. Sexting is a predictor of sexual activity and attitudes.

Sexting is just one more example of the sex-on-tap culture in which we live. According to the Adolescent Health Survey, which surveyed 23,000 high school students in the Boston area, students who have had sexual intercourse are five times more likely than virgins to be involved in sexting.

According to a National Campaign survey, the most common reason why a teen sends or posts a sext is to be “fun/flirtatious” (63% of sexters). Additionally, 43% said they have sent sexts as a “sexy” present for their boyfriend or girlfriend, 25% “to get a guy/girl’s attention,” and 24% “to feel sexy.”

Cyberbullying expert Kate McCaffrey says, “The Internet is saturated with sexual imagery. It’s the norm.” In this world of digital sexuality, “Girls generally feel some sort of pressure to give something sexually that they’re not comfortable doing,” she says.

7. Sexting is precursor to virtual slander.

Sexy digital photos or videos can easily be forwarded or shown to others. Danah Boyd, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research, says in nearly every school she visits she hears the same types of stories of sexting gone awry. The stories become quickly formulaic, she says. “Formula #1: Boy and girl are dating, images are shared. Boy and girl break up. Spurned lover shames the other by spreading images. Formula #2: Girl really likes boy, sends him sexy images. He responds by sharing them, shaming her.”

According to one survey, 14% of teens (13-19) said they have shared a sext with someone other than the one it was originally meant for; 29% of teens said they have had sexts shared with them that were not meant for them to see. Similar estimates were found by the MTV-AP survey: 18% of young people (14-24) said they have shared sexts sent to them with another person. The survey also indicates more specific sexting activities: 10% said that someone had sent them naked pictures or videos of someone else that they know personally, while 13% said someone had showed them pictures.

In more serious cases, this can also lead to something referred to as “sextortation,” when people use the pictures of videos as a form of blackmail.

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