Sexting is defined as the act of electronically communicating sexually explicit messages or pictures. Sexting can be a fun way to spice up a relationship or maintain sexual interactions while partners are forced to be apart for long periods of time (i.e. business trips, vacations, obligatory visitations). Although sexting can be very fun as long as all parties are consenting adults, sending unsolicited explicit images or sending explicit images while underage are both illegal acts and can have serious repercussions. Additionally, there is often peer pressure placed on underage teens to sext because of a wish to feel popular or admired.2 It is always best to engaging in sexting when you know your partner(s) are comfortable and can enjoy it as well!
Statistics on Sexting
In 2008, researchers from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy studied roughly 630 young adults (ages 20-26 years old) and 650 teenagers (ages 13-19 years old) to find out what percentage of them engaged in sexting. They found that 33% of young adults and 20% of teenagers openly admitted to having posted or sent “sexually explicit” images of themselves. Of the same sample group, 38% of teenagers and 58% of young adults openly admitted to having sent or posted “sexually suggestive messages.”3 Two further studies, one conducted by the Associated Press and another conducted by Music Television, found roughly similar results. Although the small sample size and the potential for sampling bias may slightly affect the accuracy of the findings, these studies show that sexting is happening frequently and is becoming an increasingly common practice among the younger members of society.2
Appeals of Sexting
Sexting can be a very appealing way to try to effectively communicate intentions or feelings to an intended or previous sexual partner. Sexting, by definition, utilizes increasingly popular forms of electronic communication and receives the benefits of those modes of communication.4 When sexting, the sexter, or sender of the sexually explicit message (the sextee is the receiver of the message), can enjoy the benefits of privacy, a sense of protection, efficiency, and self-control that may not have been present if the sexter and sextee were in the same room communicating face to face. The added barrier of cyber space allows the sexter to send a reviewable and exact message while still being sexual, flirtatious and generally in control of the situation. Adolescents living in more sexually conservative households may also find this method of sexual expression convenient because it can be done alone in privacy: the messages can be hidden easily and does not require direct contact with the intended sexual partner (who may not ever be given the chance to be alone with their intended partner).2
Sexually active partners in long distance relationships or who are temporarily away from one another can also find sexting to be very appealing. In fact, Cosmopolitan magazine claimed sexting to be one of the top nine ways to survive a super long-distance relationship, and many other dating advice websites list sexting as a strategy in long-distance relationships “keep the spark alive” between periods of being physical with a sexual partner.
Sexting also has no chance of spreading any sexually transmitted infections or causing pregnancy. Because neither the sexter nor sextee have any actual physical contact with each other, there is no possible way to spread sexually transmitted infections or fertilize an egg from sexting, regardless of situation. This is potentially the strongest benefit offered by this form of sexual expression because it provides a layer of comfort for adolescents who are often are just beginning to experiment with their sexuality.4
How to Sext
Sexting can be done using a multitude of different social media platforms. Of the most common ways to discreetly sext, the most popular are Snapchat and emoji codes. When using Snapchat, the user has many options to determine what they would like to send and how long to send it for. The sender also gets a notification if their snap is screenshotted or saved. This allows for users to not only feel more secure, but also allows for creativity. For example, if the user sends a video, they can edit the time, filter, and decorations (stickers, emojis, and captions). Emojis are another method of discreet sexting. Many emojis have an alternate sexual meaning, with the eggplant being symbolic for a penis and a peach meaning an anus or vagina. Utilizing emojis in sexts is also a fun way to get creative, especially if sexting in a public place.
Types of Sexts
When trying to initiate sexting, it may seem intimidating or embarrassing for fear that your partner may not be interested. Or, you may find that your partner is trying to initiate sexting but you are unsure of how to craft a response. Fortunately, sexting can be broken down into six main categories. They are:
- Previews: Previews can be used if you are trying to prolong the sexting conversation until an eventual meetup. An example of this may be “I’ve got a surprise waiting for you tonight” or “My clothes are coming off the second you get home.”
- Requests: Requests are straightforward ways of asking your partner what you want. This may be a good time to explore or discuss each others sexual fantasies. This is also a good way to ease into sexting. Examples can be phrases like “I want you to kiss/touch me [pick a body part]” or “I want you to do [an action that you both enjoy]”
- Teasing: Teasing is a good technique to use if you are in a long-distance relationship with the other person and want to emphasize how much you want or miss them. Examples include “It’s too bad you’re not here right now” or “I had such a good dream about you last night.”
- Memories: Using past memories when sexting a long-term partner can be a good way to reinforce a specific practice or action that they do that you enjoy. Use phrases like “Remember that time we did [fill in the blank]?” or “I want you to do exactly what you did last time we [fill in the blank].”
- Compliments: Compliments are always a good way of reassuring your partner of your interest in them and the conversation. Compliments are best if they are tailored to the experience, but good starters include “You make me so wet.” and “I love the way you make me feel.”
- Questions: If you are ever unsure how to keep the conversation going or if there is a lull, questions are a good way to get the conversation back on track and show the other partner that you are still interested. Questions can be as simple as “What are you wearing right now?” or “What else will you do to me?”
These are just a few ideas that you can use in your sexting conversations but it is always best to be genuine and incorporate personal memories that you both have. It is also important to remember that not everyone enjoys sexting, and that if your partner is not receptive to your gestures then that is perfectly ok!
Dangers of Sexting
The fundamental problems with sexting behavior are trust and exclusivity. When a sexually explicit text message is sent, the receiver is almost always openly asked or expected to keep the message private. Unfortunately, this rule is often ignored. One study conducted in 2009 found that 17% of teenagers and young adults openly admitted to sharing, forwarding, or otherwise replicating a nude or semi-nude picture sent to them via sext. Of those who admitted to sharing these photos, 55% admitted to having shared or forwarded the sexts to more than one person. It is here where the danger lies: sexters, especially teen or adolescent sexters, tend to not understand the lifespan, accessibility and how quickly electronic information spreads.4 In extreme situations, adolescents and adults have been charged with sexual harassment for spreading sexts.
Sending explicit messages electronically creates a digital record of the events which “live” in the phones and computers of sextees. A sexter may experience great psychological damage when these messages are spread. Reports of youths feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated to the point of committing suicide after the spread of a sext are common. Many political careers have been ended or marred by sexting scandal, including that of aforementioned Anthony Weiner. In the scandal dubbed by the media as “Weinergate,” Weiner, a United States Congressman, was forced to resign his seat in New York’s Ninth Congressional District after his multiple sext affairs surfaced. Using the pseudonym “Carlos Danger,” the Congressman sent sexually explicit and suggestive photographs to a woman in Seattle, Washington using the popular social networking site, Twitter. The pictures were sent during his tenure as a member of the House of Representatives and shortly after admitting to having sent the sexts, Weiner resigned in June of 2011.1
Youths are especially vulnerable to suffering from psychological damage caused by public shame from leaked sexts. Hope Witsell was a 13 year old student at Shields Middle School in Florida when a sext that she sent to her boyfriend went viral. The photograph circulated to six different schools from the area and kids would regularly verbally abuse, physically abuse, and be generally cruel to her over her publicly known sexts. Teens walked up to her and call her ‘slut,’ ‘whore,’ and in all senses of the word, bully her. This continued for some time with Hope never reaching out to her parents for guidance or help (just as many adolescents in her same situation do not seek help with their sexual harassment issues). On September 12, 2009, Hope took her own life.5 Hope is not the only child to end her own life over incidents involving sexting, this story is deeply troubling and by no means an isolated incident.
Actively participating in sexting also leaves a person open to sextbullying. Sextbullying is similar to cyberbullying and can have outcomes similar to the unfortunate story above. Sextbullying is when the threat of leaking sexts is used to coerce, harass or otherwise humiliate a sexter. In a very modern combination of blackmail and cyber sexual expression, sext bullies use fear, insecurity and very legitimate threats to get what they want. For example, some sext bullies attempt to get large sums of money from men in extra-marital affairs. Unfortunately, sextbullying can also push adolescents to suicide. Sextbullying is sometimes known to occur after harsh break-ups, where the sextee was once a highly-trusted sexual partner. When considering sexting, it is important to consider that relationships are dynamic and will change over time. For better or for worse, once sexually explicit pictures are sent out, it is nearly impossible to get them to disappear.4
As mentioned before, using Snapchat to sext can be fun and discreet, but is in no way a perfect protector of privacy. One of Snapchat’s founders, Evan Spiegel once said in an interview “We have to remind people that Snapchat is not a great way to share photos that you want to keep safe, secret or highly secure… the recipient can always take a screenshot… [and] it turns out that people with a lot of money and time can hack into it.” There are also apps that are able to save images sent to a recipient on Snapchat.7
Sexting and the Law
Anyone who has sent or received a sext from an adolescent under 18 years of age has violated child pornography laws. There are laws in all 50 states of the United States which prohibit anyone under the age of 18 to send or forward sexts and prohibit any person to possess sexts from children under 18 years old. It is also illegal to promote, coerce, solicit or receive any sext from any minor. Legal penalties vary greatly state-to-state and by nature of the offense, but the repercussions are generally harsh and can be comprised of felony convictions and life-time sexual offender registration.4
“Sexting” was given the honor of Time magazine’s number one buzzword of 2009 and was also a close finalist for the New Oxford American Dictionary “word of the year” in that same year. This form of sexual expression has only increased in prevalence over the most recent years and is expected to increase as the percentage of interpersonal communication through electronic messages continues to rise. The allure behind sexting and its appeals are obvious, but the danger comes when short-sighted thinking or blind trust leads to psychological damages and sextbullying.
Sexting is by no means a deviant or abnormal sexual act, but it is not a perfectly safe form of sexual expression as many may think. Interpersonal communication is being taken over by electronic communication and any reversal of this trend is not expected in future generations. It is in the best interest of all minors to avoid sexting. For adults, however, communicating sexually via electronic communication can be a fun way to embrace technology and incorporate different practices into their sexual routine!
- Acosta, Amelia. “The 10 Most Ridiculous Things to Come Out Of The Anthony Weiner Sexting Scandal.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 09 Aug. 2013. Web. 12 May 2014.
- Stocker, Kara. “Young Adult’s Experience of Sexting in America.” Diss. California School of Professional Psychology, 2013. Web.
- “The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.” Sex and Tech (2008). Web. 12 May 2014.
- Hudson, Heather. Factors Affecting Sexting Behaviors Among Selected Undergaduate Students. Diss. Southern Illinois U Carbondale, 2011. Print.
- Kaye, Randi. “How a Cell Phone Picture Led to Girls Suicide.” CNN. Cable News Network, 07 Oct. 2010. Web. 12 May 2014.
- Hahn, Duaine. “Snapchat Co-Founder Talks Why You Shouldn’t Use Snapchat For Sexting.” Complex.com. 10 Sept. 2013. Web. 12 May 2014.
- “Sexting and Suicides.” Genpsych. N.p., 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
- Moran, James B., Kelsey J. Salerno, T. Joel Wade. “Snapchat as a new tool for sexual access: Are there sex diferences?” Personality and Individual Differences. (2018). Web.
- Marin, Vanessa. “50 Example Sexting Ideas You Can Use Right Now.” Bustle.com 29 Dec. 2015.
Last Updated: 12 November 2018.