New Survey Results Regarding Sexting

It’s no news to say that young people have exchanged sexually suggestive messages to one another for generations. What is new is the technology available to do it. Have you heard of the trend in sexting?  Sexting is sending sexually explicit messages or photos via cell phone or instant messenger. The problem lies with how quickly our technology can propagate that material. Messages, photos or videos sent privately can easily be shared with others. Once digital images are sent, they leave a footprint and cannot be taken back.

CBR001155The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and recently commissioned a survey of teens to explore this electronic activity and quantify the proportion of teens and young adults that are sending or posting sexually suggestive text and images. The survey reached 1,280 respondents and was conducted in the Fall of 2008. Here are some of the results they discovered:

  • 20% of teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude pictures or video of themselves
  • 39% of teens have sent or posted sexually suggestive messages
  • 38% of teens say exchanging sexually suggestive content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely
  • 47% of teens say “pressure from guys” is a reason girls send and post sexually suggestive messages and images; 24% of teens say “pressure from friends” is a reason guys send and post sexually suggestive messages and images

The survey also discovered some disturbing phenomena:

  • Messages and images will get passed around, even if the sender thinks they won’t: 40% of teens and young adults say they have had a sexually suggestive message (originally meant to be private) shown to them and 20% say they have shared such a message with someone other than the person for whom is was originally meant.
  • Anything sent or posted in cyberspace will never truly go away. Something that seems fun and flirty and is done on a whim can later be seen by potential employers, college recruiters, teachers, coaches, parents, friends, enemies, and strangers, even after they are deleted. And it is nearly impossible to control what other people are posting about you.
  • Just because a message is meant to be fun doesn’t mean the person who gets it will see it that way. Four in ten teen girls who have sent sexually suggestive content did so “as a joke” but many teen boys (29%) agree that girls who send such content are “expected to date or hook up in real life.”
  • Nothing is truly anonymous. 15% of teens who send sexually suggestive messages and images, do so to people they only know online. Even if someone only knows you by screen name, online profile, phone number or email address, they can probably find you if they try hard enough.

So what is a parent or responsible adult to do? We always encourage parents to talk to teens about these difficult issues. Helping your child think through the possible consequences of their actions is one method for allowing them to draw their own conclusions. Use the survey results to explain some of the unintended consequences of sexting. The authors of the survey also suggest these ideas for parents:

  • Know who your kids are communicating with. Just as you supervise and monitor your kids’ whereabouts in real life, you must do the same in cyberspace is part of your job as a parent. Many young people consider someone a “friend” even if they’ve only met online.
  • Consider limitations on electronic communication.  Consider, for example, telling your teen to remove the phone and laptop from their bedroom before they go to bed, so they won’t be tempted to log on or talk to friends at 2a.m.
  • Be aware of what your teens are posting publicly. Check out your teen’s MySpace, Facebook and other public online profiles from time to time. This isn’t snooping—this is information your kids are making public. If everyone else can look at it, why can’t you?
  • Make sure you are clear with your teen about what you consider appropriate “electronic” behavior.

Here are three online guides for talking to your teens about this difficult issue:

Survey Results From: “Sex and Tech Survey”
The National Campaign
1776 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20036
Phone 202-478-8500

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