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

Abstract

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.

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Correspondence to Heidi Strohmaier.

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Strohmaier, H., Murphy, M. & DeMatteo, D. Youth Sexting: Prevalence Rates, Driving Motivations, and the Deterrent Effect of Legal Consequences. Sex Res Soc Policy 11, 245–255 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-014-0162-9

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Keywords

  • Sexting
  • Youth
  • Legislation
  • Sentencing
  • Juvenile sex offenders