‘Sexting’ is the practice of sending and receiving sexual images on a mobile phone.
The study is one of the first academic investigations into ‘sexting’ from a young person’s perspective in Australia. The findings were presented to the 2011 Australasian Sexual Health Conference in Canberra.
Ms Shelley Walker from the Primary Care Research Unit in the Department of General Practice at the University of Melbourne said the study not only highlighted the pressure young people experienced to engage in sexting, it also revealed the importance of their voice in understanding and developing responses to prevent and deal with the problem.
“The phenomenon has become a focus of much media reporting; however research regarding the issue is in its infancy, and the voice of young people is missing from this discussion and debate,” she said.
The qualitative study involved individual interviews with 33 young people (15 male and 18 female) aged 15 – 20 years.
Preliminary findings revealed young people believed a highly sexualized media culture bombarded young people with sexualized images and created pressure to engage in sexting.
Young people discussed the pressure boys place on each other to have girls’ photos on their phones and computers. They said if boys refrained from engaging in the activity they were labeled ‘gay’ or could be ostracized from the peer group.
Both genders talked about the pressure girls experienced from boyfriends or strangers to reciprocate on exchanging sexual images.
Some young women talked about the expectation (or more subtle pressure) to be involved in sexting, simply as a result of having viewed images of girls they know.
Both young men and women talked about being sent or shown images or videos, sometimes of people they knew or of pornography without actually having agreed to look at it first.
Ms Walker said ‘sexting’ is a rapidly changing problem as young people keep up with new technologies such as using video and Internet via mobile phones.
The Australian Communication & Media Authority reported in 2010 that around 90 percent of young people aged 15-17 owned mobile phones.
“Our study reveals how complex and ever-changing the phenomenon of ‘sexting’ is and that continued meaningful dialogue is needed to address and prevent the negative consequences of sexting for young people,” she said.
Contact Rebecca Scott
University of Melbourne