What is sexting?
The word is a mix of ‘sex’ and ‘texting’. ‘Sexting’ is sending ‘sexy’ texts. The texts may be words or images. Sexting with pictures has probably been around as long as mobile phones have had the ability to take photos and send and receive images.
How prevalent is sexting?
We do not know how many young people are sexting in Australia. However, there have been a lot of news reports about it recently. This might be because sexting can have unfortunate and unplanned consequences.
Why do it?
A survey by Girlfriend magazine found that four in ten respondents had previously been asked to forward a nude photo of themselves. A U.S. survey found 51% of teen girls sent sexy messages or images due to pressure from a guy. A majority of teen girls and boys (66% and 60% respectively) also claimed they sent sexually suggestive content to be ‘fun or flirtatious’.
What are the consequences of ‘sexting’?
Taking, sending or receiving sexual images of a minor is illegal. If you're found to have a naked or semi-naked photo of someone under 18 on your phone or your computer, you can be charged with a criminal offence. If you forward the photo to someone else you can be charged with a criminal offence even if you delete it from your own phone. You can be charged even if it is a photo of yourself and you agree to the photo being sent. In 2007, 32 Victorian teenagers were charged with child pornography offences.
Remember that everything you send might become public.Think how easy it is to forward a photo or a message. In the U.S. survey, 40% of the people surveyed said that they had been shown a text that was meant for someone else. There was a young woman in Cincinnati who had sent a sexy picture to her boyfriend. After they broke up, he sent it to some friends, who sent it to some friends... The picture ended up being shared around in seven different high schools. People she didn't know were texting her and she had messages left on her Facebook page calling her a ‘slut’ and ‘porn queen’ and other nasty names. The harassment and persecution overwhelmed her and, sadly, she suicided.
Once you've sent something you can't get it back. Think about your future and how you might like people to see you. Maybe you will try to get a job, or join a sports team, or fall in love with someone else. You probably won't want these future relationships jeopardised because you once, sent a sexualised image to someone to try and hook up with them. This has happened to Vanessa Hugdens (star of High School Musical). She has apologised to her fans for nude photos of herself which have been circulating on the internet. It is alleged she took them for her boyfriend a couple of years earlier and did not expect them to be made public.
Think about how the person receiving the text will feel. Maybe they do not want you sending them these types of messages or images. This sort of communication is not always welcome and can be highly embarrassing for the person sending the message as well as the recipient. You might think what you have sent is ‘sexy’, however the person receiving it may feel it is abusive and/or pornographic.
What you can do
If you have sent an image or text and you are worried about what might happen now, there are some things that you can do to try and make sure that your texts don't get passed on and/or you don't get accused of sending inappropriate things:
- You may have sent it to your boyfriend or girlfriend; if so, consider asking them to delete the message from their phone or inbox
- If you have sent an image or text that you feel is now out of your control, talk to a trusted adult or contact a Kids Helpline counsellor to work out what you can do.
You could feel you are being pressured to send them. Remember, like any form of sexual behaviour you have the right to say ‘No’ and to let them know that you are serious.
If someone sends you a ‘sexy’ image:
- Do not forward the image to anyone - consider what this could mean to the person involved
- If the text is from a friend, tell them you do not want any more texts like that from them
- If the texts keep coming, then block that sender. Unfriend them from your social networking account. Block their number on your phone
- You might need to change your mobile number. If you do, make sure that only friends you trust get your new number
Remember, don't be pressured into doing something you don't want to do. We're not just talking about sexting now. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, and you're really not OK with something, then don't do it.
Talk to your parents, another adult that you trust or Kids Helpline. If you've got yourself in a mess, they might be able to help you out of it.
Some helpful links
There are some really helpful websites you can go to for information if you are receiving messages that you feel uncomfortable about:
- Battersby, Lucy Sexting: fears as teens targeted in The Sydney Morning Herald July 10, 2008. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/07/10/1215282979671.html
- Sex and tech: results from a survey of teens and young adults / The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/PDF/SexTech_Summary.pdf
- Battersby, Lucy Sexting: fears as teens charged. July 10, 2008 http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/07/10/1215282979671.html
- Kranz, Cindy. Nude photo led to suicide in Cincinnati.Com March 22, 2009.http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20090322/NEWS01/903220312/-1/today
Updated: 7 September 2011