Sexting by High School Students: An Exploratory and Descriptive Study


Recently, a phenomenon known as sexting, defined here as the transfer of sexually explicit photos via cell phone, has received substantial attention in the U.S. national media. To determine the current and potential future impact of sexting, more information about the behavior and the attitudes and beliefs surrounding it must be gathered, particularly as it relates to sexting by minors. The present study was designed to provide preliminary information about this phenomenon. Participants were 606 high school students (representing 98 % of the available student body) recruited from a single private high school in the southwestern U.S. Nearly 20 % of all participants reported they had ever sent a sexually explicit image of themselves via cell phone while almost twice as many reported that they had ever received a sexually explicit picture via cell phone and, of these, over 25 % indicated that they had forwarded such a picture to others. Of those reporting having sent a sexually explicit cell phone picture, over a third did so despite believing that there could be serious legal and other consequences attached to the behavior. Given the potential legal and psychological risks associated with sexting, it is important for adolescents, parents, school administrators, and even legislators and law enforcement to understand this behavior.

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  1. 1.

    Based on the findings of all previous sexting surveys reporting this data.

  2. 2.

    Based on the findings of all previous sexting surveys reporting this data.

  3. 3.

    Based on the school’s demographics, most of these students were between 15 and 17 years.

  4. 4.

    The ethnicity of our participants was not collected. These figures represent the ethnicity of the entire school population.


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Correspondence to Donald S. Strassberg.

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Strassberg, D.S., McKinnon, R.K., Sustaíta, M.A. et al. Sexting by High School Students: An Exploratory and Descriptive Study. Arch Sex Behav 42, 15–21 (2013).

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  • Sexting
  • Explicit cell phone pictures
  • Adolescents