Consensual sexting among adolescents: Risk prevention through abstinence education or safer sexting?


Sexting – that is, the private exchange of self-produced sexual images via cell phone or the internet – has been widely discussed in public and academic discourses as a new high-risk behavior among youths (especially girls) that should be prevented through better education about the various and severe risks it poses. This paper summarizes existing data on sexting prevalence (17 studies), which reveal that sexting is much more common among adults than among youths, with increasing prevalence among adolescents as they grow older. The paper then looks at the current state of sexting research by reviewing all 50 sexting papers in the PsycINFO and PubMed databases published between 2009 and 2013 regarding their coverage of the risks and/or opportunities associated with sexting. Most of the papers (79%) address adolescent sexting as risky behavior and link it to sexual objectification and violence, to risky sexual behavior, and to negative consequences like bullying by peers and criminal prosecution under child pornography laws. In opposition to this deviance discourse, a normalcy discourse is appearing in the literature that interprets sexting as normal intimate communication within romantic and sexual relationships, both among adults and adolescents who are exploring and growing into adult relationships. Next, the paper analyzes the sexting risk prevention messages of 10 online educational campaigns. Such campaigns typically rely on scare scenarios, emphasize the risk of bullying and criminal prosecution, engage in female victim blaming, and recommend complete abstinence from sexting. The paper closes by questioning the abstinence approach in sexting education, and makes suggestions on how to move towards an evidence-based approach to sexting risk prevention that acknowledges both adolescents' vulnerability and sexual agency.

Bibliographic citation

Döring, N. (2014). Consensual sexting among adolescents: Risk prevention through abstinence education or safer sexting?. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 8(1), Article 9. doi:


sexting; sexually explicit user generated content; cell phone; gender; bullying; media education

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Aina M. Gassó, Katrin Mueller-Johnson, José R. Agustina, Esperanza Gómez-Durán
Journal of Sexual Aggression  first page: 1,  year: 2021

45. Sexting and risky sexual behaviours among undergraduate students in Botswana: An exploratory study
Obakeng L. Makgale, Ilse Elisabeth Plattner
Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace  vol: 11,  issue: 2,  year: 2017

46. The selfie and the transformation of the public–private distinction
Michael James Walsh, Stephanie Alice Baker
Information, Communication & Society  vol: 20,  issue: 8,  first page: 1185,  year: 2017

47. Sexting among high school students in a metropolis in Ghana: an exploratory and descriptive study
F. Baiden, J. Amankwah, A. Owusu
Journal of Children and Media  vol: 14,  issue: 3,  first page: 361,  year: 2020

48. Sexting and emotional reactions to hooking up among Chinese college students: Moderated mediation effects of loneliness and number of hookup partners
Ke Yu, Yong Zheng
Personality and Individual Differences  vol: 167,  first page: 110252,  year: 2020

49. Views and Attitudes about Youth Self-Produced Sexual Images among Professionals with Expertise in Child Sexual Abuse
Andrea Slane, Jennifer Martin, Jonah R. Rimer
Journal of Child Sexual Abuse  vol: 30,  issue: 2,  first page: 207,  year: 2021

50. Longitudinal and reciprocal relationships between sexting, online sexual solicitations, and cyberbullying among minors
Manuel Gámez-Guadix, Estibaliz Mateos-Pérez
Computers in Human Behavior  vol: 94,  first page: 70,  year: 2019

51. A systematic review of the current knowledge regarding revenge pornography and non-consensual sharing of sexually explicit media
Kate Walker, Emma Sleath
Aggression and Violent Behavior  vol: 36,  first page: 9,  year: 2017

52. Sex(t) Talk: A Qualitative Analysis of Young Adults’ Negotiations of the Pleasures and Perils of Sexting
Melissa Burkett
Sexuality & Culture  vol: 19,  issue: 4,  first page: 835,  year: 2015

53. Technology-mediated sexual interaction and relationships: a systematic review of the literature
Erin Leigh Courtice, Krystelle Shaughnessy
Sexual and Relationship Therapy  vol: 32,  issue: 3-4,  first page: 269,  year: 2017

54. “I keep hearing reports on the news that it's a real problem at the moment”: Public health nurses’ understandings of sexting practices among young people
Caroline Bradbury‐Jones, Sally Bradshaw, Maria Clark, Alison Lewis
Health & Social Care in the Community  vol: 27,  issue: 4,  first page: 1063,  year: 2019

55. Research on Sexting and Emotion Regulation Difficulties: A review and Commentary
Arta Dodaj, Kristina Sesar
International Journal of Developmental Science  vol: 14,  issue: 1-2,  first page: 1,  year: 2020

56. Sexting in adolescents: Prevalence and behaviours
Mónica Ojeda, Rosario del-Rey, Michel Walrave, Heidi Vandebosch
Comunicar  vol: 28,  issue: 64,  first page: 9,  year: 2020

57. Meanings of Bodily and Sexual Expression in Youth Sexting Culture: Young Women’s Negotiation of Gendered Risks and Harms
Emily Setty
Sex Roles  vol: 80,  issue: 9-10,  first page: 586,  year: 2019

58. The Handbook of Media Education Research
Normand Landry, Christiane Caneva
ISBN 9781119166900  first page: 289,  year: 2020

59. Online sexual abuse of adolescents by a perpetrator met online: a cross-sectional study
Linda S. Jonsson, Cecilia Fredlund, Gisela Priebe, Marie Wadsby, Carl Göran Svedin
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health  vol: 13,  issue: 1,  year: 2019

60. Handbuch Online-Kommunikation
Nicola Döring
ISBN 978-3-658-18017-1  Chapter 8-1,  first page: 1,  year: 2018

61. It’s “vile” but is it violence? A case study analysis of news media representations of non-consensual sexual image-sharing
Denise Buiten
Feminist Media Studies  vol: 20,  issue: 8,  first page: 1177,  year: 2020

62. Caregivers’ Perceptions and Responses to a New Norm: The Missing Link in Addressing Adolescent Sexting Behaviors in the U.S.
Rebecca L. Fix, Luciana C. Assini-Meytin, Andrew J. Harris, Elizabeth J. Letourneau
Archives of Sexual Behavior  vol: 50,  issue: 2,  first page: 575,  year: 2021

63. Correlates and outcomes associated with sexting among justice involved youth: The role of developmental adversity, emotional disinhibitions, relationship context, and dating violence
Jamie Yoder, Jesse Hansen, Madison Precht
Children and Youth Services Review  vol: 94,  first page: 493,  year: 2018

64. How public health nurses’ deal with sexting among young people: a qualitative inquiry using the critical incident technique
Maria Clark, Alison Lewis, Sally Bradshaw, Caroline Bradbury-Jones
BMC Public Health  vol: 18,  issue: 1,  year: 2018

65. ‘Confident’ and ‘hot’ or ‘desperate’ and ‘cowardly’? Meanings of young men’s sexting practices in youth sexting culture
Emily Setty
Journal of Youth Studies  vol: 23,  issue: 5,  first page: 561,  year: 2020

66. The Role of Sexual Images in Online and Offline Sexual Behaviour With Minors
Ethel Quayle, Emily Newman
Current Psychiatry Reports  vol: 17,  issue: 6,  year: 2015

67. Onset Trajectories of Sexting and Other Sexual Behaviors Across High School: A Longitudinal Growth Mixture Modeling Approach
Davia B. Steinberg, Valerie A. Simon, Bryan G. Victor, Poco D. Kernsmith, Joanne P. Smith-Darden
Archives of Sexual Behavior  vol: 48,  issue: 8,  first page: 2321,  year: 2019

68. Sexting, Online Sexual Victimization, and Psychopathology Correlates by Sex: Depression, Anxiety, and Global Psychopathology
Aina M. Gassó, Katrin Mueller-Johnson, Irene Montiel
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health  vol: 17,  issue: 3,  first page: 1018,  year: 2020

69. Demystifying sexting: Adolescent sexting and its associations with parenting styles and sense of parental social control in Israel
Michal Dolev-Cohen, Tsameret Ricon
Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace  vol: 14,  issue: 1,  year: 2020

70. Images across Europe: The sending and receiving of sexual images and associations with interpersonal violence in young people's relationships
Marsha Wood, Christine Barter, Nicky Stanley, Nadia Aghtaie, Cath Larkins
Children and Youth Services Review  vol: 59,  first page: 149,  year: 2015

71. Handbuch Medienpädagogik
Verena Vogelsang
ISBN 978-3-658-25090-4  Chapter 77-1,  first page: 1,  year: 2021

72. Consensual Sexting among College Students: The Interplay of Coercion and Intimate Partner Aggression in Perceived Consequences of Sexting
Tara L. Cornelius, Kathryn M. Bell, Tylor Kistler, Michelle Drouin
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health  vol: 17,  issue: 19,  first page: 7141,  year: 2020

73. Handbuch Online-Kommunikation
Nicola Döring
ISBN 978-3-658-18016-4  Chapter 8,  first page: 167,  year: 2019

74. The Nature and Extent of Sexting Among a National Sample of Middle and High School Students in the U.S.
Justin W. Patchin, Sameer Hinduja
Archives of Sexual Behavior  vol: 48,  issue: 8,  first page: 2333,  year: 2019

75. When Sexting Crosses the Line: Educator Responsibilities in the Support of Prosocial Adolescent Behavior and the Prevention of Violence
Melinda Lemke, Katelyn Rogers
Social Sciences  vol: 9,  issue: 9,  first page: 150,  year: 2020

76. Combating the Exploitation of Children in Cyberspace
Talatu Salihu Ahmadu, Hafsat Lawal Kontagora
ISBN 9781799823629  chapter 5,  first page: 95,  year: 2021

77. Psychological Correlates of Teen Sexting in three Countries – Direct and Indirect Associations between Self-control, Self-esteem, and Sexting
Sebastian Wachs, Michelle F. Wright, Karsten D. Wolf
International Journal of Developmental Science  vol: 11,  issue: 3-4,  first page: 109,  year: 2017

78. Critical Issues Impacting Science, Technology, Society (STS), and Our Future
Samuel E. Ehrenreich, Diana J. Meter, Marion K. Underwood
ISBN 9781522579502  chapter 6,  first page: 124,  year: 2019

79. Sexting à l’adolescence : des frontières de l’intimité du couple à l’extimité à risque.
Fabienne Glowacz, Margot Goblet
Enfances, Familles, Générations  issue: 34,  year: 2019

80. Sexting
Michel Walrave, Joris Van Ouytsel, Koen Ponnet, Jeff R. Temple
ISBN 978-3-319-71882-8  Chapter 1,  first page: 1,  year: 2018

81. Only sluts love sexting: youth, sexual norms and non-consensual sharing of digital sexual images
Marijke Naezer, Lotte van Oosterhout
Journal of Gender Studies  vol: 30,  issue: 1,  first page: 79,  year: 2021

82. A ‘Control Model’ of Social Media Engagement in Adolescence: A Grounded Theory Analysis
Throuvala, Griffiths, Rennoldson, Kuss
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health  vol: 16,  issue: 23,  first page: 4696,  year: 2019

83. Patterns of sexting and sexual behaviors in youth: A Latent Class Analysis
Camille Mori, Hye Jeong Choi, Jeff R. Temple, Sheri Madigan
Journal of Adolescence  vol: 88,  first page: 97,  year: 2021

84. Encyclopedia of Mobile Phone Behavior
Lara Karaian, Andrew Tompkins
ISBN 9781466682405  chapter 118,  first page: 1500,  year: 2015

85. Image-based Abuse: Debate and Reflections on the “Iveco Case” in Spain on Twitter
Nahia Idoiaga Mondragon, Maria Dosil Santamaria, Maitane Belasko Txertudi, Israel Alonso Saez
Journal of Interpersonal Violence  first page: 088626052096714,  year: 2020

86. Management of non-consensually shared youth-produced sexual images: A Delphi study with adolescents as experts
Ethel Quayle, Laura Cariola
Child Abuse & Neglect  vol: 95,  first page: 104064,  year: 2019

87. A Rights-Based Approach to Youth Sexting: Challenging Risk, Shame, and the Denial of Rights to Bodily and Sexual Expression Within Youth Digital Sexual Culture
Emily Setty
International Journal of Bullying Prevention  vol: 1,  issue: 4,  first page: 298,  year: 2019

88. Gender, Pressure, Coercion and Pleasure: Untangling Motivations for Sexting Between Young People
Murray Lee, Thomas Crofts
British Journal of Criminology  vol: 55,  issue: 3,  first page: 454,  year: 2015

89. Handbuch Soziale Praktiken und Digitale Alltagswelten
Nicola Döring
ISBN 978-3-658-08357-1  Chapter 40,  first page: 301,  year: 2020

90. Individual differences and developmental trends in sexting motivations
Dora Bianchi, Mara Morelli, Roberto Baiocco, Antonio Chirumbolo
Current Psychology  year: 2019

91. Teens and 'Sexting' in New Zealand: Prevalence and Attitudes
Edgar Pacheco, Neil Melhuish
SSRN Electronic Journal   year: 2017

92. “Sex Pics?”: Longitudinal Predictors of Sexting Among Adolescents
Manuel Gámez-Guadix, Patricia de Santisteban
Journal of Adolescent Health  vol: 63,  issue: 5,  first page: 608,  year: 2018

93. Hetero-sexting as mediated intimacy work: ‘Putting something on the line’
Rikke Amundsen
New Media & Society  first page: 146144482096245,  year: 2020

94. Feind oder Freund in meiner Hosentasche? – Zur Rolle von Individuum, Peergroup und Eltern für die (dys)funktionale Handynutzung
Karin Knop, Dorothée Hefner
Praxis der Kinderpsychologie und Kinderpsychiatrie  vol: 67,  issue: 2,  first page: 204,  year: 2018

95. Is sexting bad for adolescent girls’ psychological well-being? A longitudinal assessment in middle to late adolescence
Jakov Burić, Justin R Garcia, Aleksandar Štulhofer
New Media & Society  first page: 146144482093109,  year: 2020

96. Longitudinal relationships between sexting and involvement in both bullying and cyberbullying
Mónica Ojeda, Rosario Del Rey, Simon C. Hunter
Journal of Adolescence  vol: 77,  first page: 81,  year: 2019

97. It is Time to Teach Safe Sexting
Justin W. Patchin, Sameer Hinduja
Journal of Adolescent Health  vol: 66,  issue: 2,  first page: 140,  year: 2020

98. Sexting and Gender Violence Among Young People: An Integrative Literature Review.
Lara Souza, Sílvia Renata Magalhães Lordello
Psicologia: Teoria e Pesquisa  vol: 36,  year: 2020

99. The Palgrave Handbook of Sexuality Education
Kath Albury, Amy Adele Hasinoff, Theresa Senft
ISBN 978-1-137-40033-8  Chapter 26,  first page: 527,  year: 2017

100. Pornography use and sexting amongst children and young people: a systematic overview of reviews
Gary Raine, Claire Khouja, Rachel Scott, Kath Wright, Amanda J. Sowden
Systematic Reviews  vol: 9,  issue: 1,  year: 2020

101. Sharing is not always caring: Understanding motivations and behavioural associations with sext dissemination.
Elizabeth M. Clancy, Bianca Klettke, David J. Hallford, Angela M. Crossman, Megan K. Maas, John W. Toumbourou
Computers in Human Behavior  vol: 112,  first page: 106460,  year: 2020

102. The Prevalence of Sexting Behaviors Among Emerging Adults: A Meta-Analysis
Camille Mori, Jessica E. Cooke, Jeff R. Temple, Anh Ly, Yu Lu, Nina Anderson, Christina Rash, Sheri Madigan
Archives of Sexual Behavior  vol: 49,  issue: 4,  first page: 1103,  year: 2020

103. Sexting as sexual stigma: The paradox of sexual self-representation in digital youth cultures
Sander De Ridder
European Journal of Cultural Studies  vol: 22,  issue: 5-6,  first page: 563,  year: 2019

104. Prevalence and profile of sexting among adolescents in Ecuador
Paula Yépez-Tito, Marta Ferragut, María J. Blanca
Journal of Youth Studies  vol: 22,  issue: 4,  first page: 505,  year: 2019

105. (Don’t) Look at Me! How the Assumed Consensual or Non-Consensual Distribution Affects Perception and Evaluation of Sexting Images
Arne Dekker, Frederike Wenzlaff, Anne Daubmann, Hans O. Pinnschmidt, Peer Briken
Journal of Clinical Medicine  vol: 8,  issue: 5,  first page: 706,  year: 2019

106. Assessing the Links of Sexting, Cybervictimization, Depression, and Suicidal Ideation Among University Students
José Luis Jasso Medrano, Fuensanta Lopez Rosales, Manuel Gámez-Guadix
Archives of Suicide Research  vol: 22,  issue: 1,  first page: 153,  year: 2018

107. Sexting
Kathleen Van Royen, Karolien Poels, Heidi Vandebosch, Michel Walrave
ISBN 978-3-319-71882-8  Chapter 6,  first page: 81,  year: 2018

108. Sexting: A new, digital vehicle for intimate partner aggression?
Michelle Drouin, Jody Ross, Elizabeth Tobin
Computers in Human Behavior  vol: 50,  first page: 197,  year: 2015

109. Soziale Onlinenetzwerke in der Psychotherapie mit Jugendlichen
Michael Borg-Laufs
Psychotherapeut  vol: 60,  issue: 2,  first page: 151,  year: 2015

110. The Relationship between Dark Triad Personality Traits and Sexting Behaviors among Adolescents and Young Adults across 11 Countries
Mara Morelli, Flavio Urbini, Dora Bianchi, Roberto Baiocco, Elena Cattelino, Fiorenzo Laghi, Piotr Sorokowski, Michal Misiak, Martyna Dziekan, Heather Hudson, Alexandra Marshall, Thanh Truc T. Nguyen, Lauren Mark, Kamil Kopecky, René Szotkowski, Ezgi Toplu Demirtaş, Joris Van Ouytsel, Koen Ponnet, Michel Walrave, Tingshao Zhu, Ya Chen, Nan Zhao, Xiaoqian Liu, Alexander Voiskounsky, Nataliya Bogacheva, Maria Ioannou, John Synnott, Kalliopi Tzani-Pepelasi, Vimala Balakrishnan, Moses Okumu, Eusebius Small, Silviya Pavlova Nikolova, Michelle Drouin, Antonio Chirumbolo
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health  vol: 18,  issue: 5,  first page: 2526,  year: 2021

111. The role of HEXACO personality traits in different kinds of sexting:A cross-cultural study in 10 countries
Mara Morelli, Antonio Chirumbolo, Dora Bianchi, Roberto Baiocco, Elena Cattelino, Fiorenzo Laghi, Piotr Sorokowski, Michal Misiak, Martyna Dziekan, Heather Hudson, Alexandra Marshall, Thanh Truc T. Nguyen, Lauren Mark, Kamil Kopecky, René Szotkowski, Ezgi Toplu Demirtaş, Joris Van Ouytsel, Koen Ponnet, Michel Walrave, Tingshao Zhu, Ya Chen, Nan Zhao, Xiaoqian Liu, Alexander Voiskounsky, Nataliya Bogacheva, Maria Ioannou, John Synnott, Kalliopi Tzani-Pepelasi, Vimala Balakrishnan, Moses Okumu, Eusebius Small, Silviya Pavlova Nikolova, Michelle Drouin
Computers in Human Behavior  vol: 113,  first page: 106502,  year: 2020

112. “When It Deviates It Becomes Harassment, Doesn’t It?” A Qualitative Study on the Definition of Sexting According to Adolescents and Young Adults, Parents, and Teachers
Yara Barrense-Dias, Joan-Carles Surís, Christina Akre
Archives of Sexual Behavior  vol: 48,  issue: 8,  first page: 2357,  year: 2019

113. Sext education: pedagogies of sex, gender and shame in the schoolyards ofTaggedandExposed
Amy Shields Dobson, Jessica Ringrose
Sex Education  vol: 16,  issue: 1,  first page: 8,  year: 2016

114. Construction and Validation of the Intimate Images Diffusion Scale Among Adolescents
María Penado, María Luisa Rodicio-García, María Marcos Cuesta, Tania Corrás
Frontiers in Psychology  vol: 10,  year: 2019

115. Does body dissatisfaction influence sexting behaviors in daily life?
Dominika Howard, Bianca Klettke, Mathew Ling, Isabel Krug, Matthew Fuller-Tyszkiewicz
Computers in Human Behavior  vol: 101,  first page: 320,  year: 2019

116. Whether or not to engage in sexting: Explaining adolescent sexting behaviour by applying the prototype willingness model
Michel Walrave, Koen Ponnet, Joris Van Ouytsel, Ellen Van Gool, Wannes Heirman, Anouk Verbeek
Telematics and Informatics  vol: 32,  issue: 4,  first page: 796,  year: 2015

117. Opinions of Adolescents on Prevention Related to Sexting: a Q-Methodology Study
Yara Barrense-Dias, Christina Akre, Joan-Carles Suris, André Berchtold
Sexuality Research and Social Policy  vol: 17,  issue: 4,  first page: 753,  year: 2020

118. Children in Identified Sexual Images - Who Are they? Self- and Non-Self-Taken Images in the International Child Sexual Exploitation Image Database 2006-2015
Ethel Quayle, Linda S. Jonsson, Karen Cooper, James Traynor, Carl Göran Svedin
Child Abuse Review  vol: 27,  issue: 3,  first page: 223,  year: 2018