Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Normalcy of Sexting Among Teens

Peer pressure is to blame for growing concern of teen sexting.

Source: Pixabay

According to Netsafe's latest research, one in five teens said they have been asked for nude or semi-nude images in the last year, but only 4 percent have shared pi a ture of themselves.

This research was conducted on teens between the ages of 14 and 17 in New Zealand.

Nearly 40 percent of the New Zealand teens knew someone that had shared an image, and 30 percent believe that peer pressure is why they engage in this behavior.

American teens feel pressure too

One study of teenagers in Texas basically concluded that sexting is the new first base. In a 2012 survey of college students published by Elizabeth Englander of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, 30 percent admitted that, during high school, they had sent nude photos, and 45 percent reported that they had received them. The risk of those photos getting passed around is not insignificant—the students said that about a quarter of the time, their photos were spread beyond the original receiver, especially when they’d been pressured to send them in the first place. In a 2015 follow-up, Englander found that 70 percent of the sexters reported feeling coerced, at times, to do so.

For teen girls that believe sending a nude will help them seal a relationship, the odds of a sext landing a serious boyfriend are even more far-fetched. In a 2015 survey, Englander found that of the students who were pressured into sending a sext hoping to land a potential boyfriend, only 2 percent managed to do so.

Public and Permenant®

Know that everything you put out there has the possibility of becoming “Public and Permanent®,” an expression perfectly coined by Richard Guerry, founder of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication. “Far too many people with technology are not stopping to think about the long-term repercussions of their actions,” he says. Guerry advocates for digital consciousness—always posting with the awareness that anything you’ve documented could be disseminated.

Especially as it pertains to sexual images, youth today are literally taking their lives from the public humiliation after experiencing nudes gone viral. From Amanda Todd to the tragic cyber-humiliation of Tyler Clementi, once a digital image is out there, it's nearly impossible to retrieve. For many young people, this can be emotionally unbearable to survive.

Teens need a way out

In a new study by National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) co-sponsored by Microsoft, Keeping Up with Generation App: NCSA Parent/Teen Online Safety Survey, provided an insightful look into the complex digital lives of American teens and their parents. Interestingly, almost half of teens (47 percent) say parents are their top source on learning how to stay safe online.

Dr. Michelle Drouin, a relationship and technology expert, believes that we adults [parents] need to provide teens with an out. “What teens need is help with what to say when someone asks for a picture, without jeopardizing their relationship,” she says. “That could be saying, ‘I’m not ready yet,’ or ‘I’d rather keep our physical [experiences] in person,’ or simply, ‘My parents will confiscate my phone if they find out."

Emily Lindin, author of UnSlut: A Diary and a Memoir, has a strong message that always strikes a chord when she talks with teen girls about slut shaming: she points out that online porn is readily available, so these boys already have all the masturbatory material they could ever desire—what they are really after is power to lord over you, control you, even blackmail you. She asks young women pointedly, “Do you really want to give them that power?”

Staying safe offline and online

More from Sue Scheff
More from Psychology Today