Sexuality Research and Social Policy

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 245-255

First online:

Youth Sexting: Prevalence Rates, Driving Motivations, and the Deterrent Effect of Legal Consequences

  • Heidi StrohmaierAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Drexel University Email author 
  • , Megan MurphyAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Drexel University
  • , David DeMatteoAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Drexel University

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This study investigated the prevalence of and motivations behind the exchange of sexually explicit text messages (“sexting”)—including those with and without photographic images—among youth. Secondary aims included gauging youth awareness of potential legal and other negative consequences of sexting, and assessing the possible deterrent effect of anti-sexting legislation. Undergraduate students (N = 175) recruited from a large Northeastern university completed an anonymous online survey concerning their engagement in sexting as minors. Consistent with hypotheses, more than half of respondents reported sexting as minors, although only 28 % sent photographic sexts. Respondents demonstrated a general lack of awareness regarding legal consequences of underage sexting, with knowledge of legal consequences having a modest deterrent effect. Respondents who, as minors, were aware of legal consequences of youth sexting were significantly less likely than their peers to engage in underage sexting. Survey respondents were divided on the issue of whether minors should be prosecuted for sexting, and generally advocated for rehabilitative over punitive sanctions. Policy implications and future directions are discussed.


Sexting Youth Legislation Sentencing Juvenile sex offenders