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Learn about sexting

Get insight on the reasons why young people may get involved in sexting, what the law says and the impact it can have on their digital wellbeing.

By mathias delightPublished 27 days ago 4 min read

What do I need to know about sexting?

There are many reasons why a young person might engage in sexting. Here's what you need to know.

Self-generated child sexual abuse material (CSAM)

‘Self-generated’ child sexual abuse material (CSAM) describes indecent imagery produced and shared by children and young people. However, it is an imperfect term.

There are many reasons why a child may choose to take and send sexual images of themselves. These include:

Consensual sharing in a romantic relationship

Being pressured, tricked or coerced into sharing an image

Grooming and exploitation

Once sent, there is a risk that images are shared further, without the subject’s consent. For example, the images could be ‘leaked’ within peer groups or distributed via adult offender networks.

While it is technically true that the child ‘generated’ a sexual image of themselves, it is important not to imply that they are in any way to blame for their abuse. This is the responsibility of the perpetrator(s).

We welcome ongoing work with partners in the sector to develop a common language for ‘self-generated’ material which accurately reflects the dynamics and perpetration of this form of child sexual abuse.

Sometimes children might feel pressured to either take pictures of themselves or pass on those taken by others. They may want to please a demanding boyfriend or girlfriend, or do what they think everyone else is doing. They may also have even been coerced by an adult or someone they’ve met online.

As children have no control over how and where images and messages spread online, sexting leaves them vulnerable to bullying, humiliation and embarrassment, or even to blackmail.

Sexting: Facts and statistics

How common is it?

Despite what adults believe, young people in our 2020 Cybersurvey told us that sharing nudes is not ‘endemic.’

It is most prevalent among those aged 15 and over, with 17% saying they had shared a nude or sexual photo of themselves. This increases in the mid-teens, from 4% at age 13 to 7% at age 14. The rate then more than doubles between the 14 and 15+ age groups, when around 1 in 6 have sent an image of themselves to someone else.

Contributing to child sexual abuse materials (CSAM)

In Ofcom’s report on video-sharing platform regulation from 2022, self-generated sexual material such as sexting or nudes was a significant driver of online harm.

In 2021, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) reviewed over 250,000 webpages and found 72% to contain self-generated CSAM. This is an increase of 163% from the year before. Additionally, they reported a 360% growth in the amount of self-generated CSAM of 7- to 10-year-olds compared to the same period the year before.

Platforms like OnlyFans and Omegle likely contribute to the spread of self-generated sexual imagery as neither have robust age verification checks in place.

Why do teens do it?

Not all teens share nudes. However, those that do are most likely vulnerable, according to the 2020 Cybersurvey. More than 1 in 5 of those with an eating disorder and more than 1 in 4 of those in care are sharing these images.

When young people were asked why they engage in sexting:

38% said they were in a relationship and wanted to, 31% said they did it for fun, 27% said it was because they looked good and 19% said they wanted to see the other person’s reaction

Boys were more likely to feel like it was an expected part of being in a relationship (35%) while girls said they wanted to because they were in a relationship (41%).

For those young people who have sexted, 78% said they hadn’t faced any consequences, leading them to disbelieve traditional online safety advice.

What apps do young people use to sext?

Young people likely make use of popular apps like Whatsapp and Snapchat. However, they may also make use of lesser-known apps like Wink and Swipr or anonymous apps. While some platforms have safeguards in place to disallow sexual imagery, sexting may include inappropriate language as well as images.

Young people may also meet people in these apps and then continue conversations on other platforms.

What are the possible consequences of sexting?

From our 2020 Cybersurvey, 78% of young people said nothing bad happened after they shared a nude photo. However, although young people may see sexting as a harmless activity by taking, sharing or receiving an image, it can have a long-lasting impact on a child’s self-esteem.

It may cause emotional distress

The sharing of inappropriate content can lead to negative comments and bullying, which can be very upsetting.

Additionally, sharing naked or almost naked pictures of someone is a form of online child-on-child abuse when done between under-18s.

It could affect your child’s reputation

Explicit content can spread very quickly over the internet and affect your child’s reputation. This may result in different treatment at school and in their community both now and in the future. It could also affect their education and employment prospects as online reputation tends to stay around longer.

However, if your child’s nude images end up online, report them to the Internet Watch Foundation to get the removed. Remember that any nude images of under-18s is considered abuse regardless of the context.

Sexting is illegal (for under-18s)

When children engage in sexting they’re creating an indecent image of a person under the age of 18 which, even if they take it themselves, is against the law.

Distributing an indecent image of a child – e.g. sending it via text – is also illegal. It’s very unlikely that a child would be prosecuted for a first offence, but the police might want to investigate.

This short summary from the UKCCIS provides more information about sexting and how schools should respond to it.

PsychologicalYoung AdultLove

About the Creator

mathias delight

I am a Certified Forex and Binary Trader, a Blog writer and a Buisness Guru

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    mathias delightWritten by mathias delight

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