Teen Angst

Helping adolescents deal with anger and other emotions effectively

Pressured to Sext

What drives teens to engage in sexting?


Technology is changing the way we communicate with one another. The days of verbal communication and face-to-face interactions are slowly decreasing. Digital media is changing and shaping how adults communicate in both everyday and intimate relationships, and it’s no different for teens. Many teens use a variety of digital sources such as emails, cellular devices, IMing, social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and videoconferencing (e.g., FaceTime and Skype) to initiate, maintain and even end romantic relationships. With the access to all of the various forms of social media, it’s no wonder that sexting is becoming increasingly popular.

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Sexting, short for "sex" "texting", is defined as the exchange of sexual material (picture or text) shared via mobile device or through social networking sites. The word was first used by the media back in 2005. In fact, sexting’s rise in popularity put it in the running to be the 2009 word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary. Fast forward several years later and it is still gaining national attention - especially with teens.With approximately 25%-30% of the teenage population admitting to sexting, it's apparent that something is driving them to do it, but what?

Why are teens sexting?

Could it be the curiosity of what sex is like? Sure,curiosity may be a factor, but is that the only motivating force behind sexting? Not according to research published in Behavior & Information Technology. In a recent study surveying 498 adolescents ages 15 to 18 years, researchers found the following reasons for teen sexting:

  • to get attention
  • to lower the chances of getting STDs
  • to find a romantic partner.

So it appears friends and romantic partners play a significant role in whether or not a teen succumbs to the pressure to sext. Teens who sexted said they were most likely to do so if they trusted the individual to whom they were sending the sext. In addition, the more positive social pressure they had from romantic partners, the more they were inclined to do it.

Interestingly, the following things did not affect a teen’s decision to sext:

  • negative pressures from parents and teachers
  • whether or not parents monitored cellular devices
  • getting a bad reputation
  • being blackmailed

So if parents being disappointed, searching their phones, having a bad reputation, or being blackmailed doesn’t work, what on earth will?

The answer is as simple as this…peers. If there is no pressure from a romantic partner to sext, the odds of sexting decreases. Teens are highly influenced by what their peers think and believe. In accordance with this research teens make their decision based on what peers perceive is socially acceptable.

To deter sexting researchers suggested using awareness-raising initiatives that focus on peer pressure and the acceptability of sexting. Here are some of their preventative recommendations:

  • Integrate sexting in adolescents' sexual education
  • Increase opportunities for young people to engage in discussions
  • Teach adolescents how to cope with peer pressure

In conclusion, sexting isn’t going away any time soon. Digital media is becoming increasingly embedded into how we express, communicate and even maintain relationships. In order to decrease sexting we need to be focused on educating teens to “just say NO” and “Don’t ask.”  According to this research efforts need to focus on changing peer perception of sexting and highlighting its dangers. Peers hold the key to reducing sexting, and that's a wrap.

Journal Reference:

Michel Walrave, WannesHeirman& Lara Hallam. Under pressure to sext? Applying the theory of planned behavior to adolescent sexting. Behavior & Information Technology, November 2013.

News Break:

Android Smartphone app aimed at educating teens about the dangers of sexting:  

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-11-18/smartphone-app-aims-to-educate-teenagers-about-dangers-of-sexti/5099884

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, M.S., L.P.C., is the author of The Anger Workbook for Teens.

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