“What Should I Do?”: Young Women’s Reported Dilemmas with Nude Photographs


Sexting and sending nude and semi-nude photographs continues to be at the forefront of discourse pertaining to adolescence. While researchers have explored consequences for sexting, less is known about the challenges adolescents face when making decisions about sending photographs. Using online personal accounts posted by adolescents, this study explores young women’s reported dilemmas with sending nude photographs to their peers. A thematic analysis of 462 stories reveals that young women received conflicting messages which told them both to send and refrain from sending photographs. In addition to sending photographs in the hope of gaining a relationship, young women also reported sending photographs as the result of coercion by male counterparts in the form of persistent requests, anger, and threats. Young women attempted to navigate young men’s coercive behaviors yet frequently resorted to compliance. Refusal was often met with repeated requests or threats. Alternative tactics were largely absent from young women’s stories, indicating that young women do not have tools to successfully navigate the challenges they face.

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The author wishes to thank Viacom for access to this data, Northwestern University faculty members Simone Ispa-Landa, Jim Spillane, and Daniella Hall, and University of Illinois at Chicago graduate student Emily Machado for feedback on the analytical framing of this paper. Additionally, I wish to thank an anonymous reviewer and Northwestern University faculty member Jon Guryan for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sara E. Thomas.

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The authors have no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

This research involved the use of existing data provided through a license with Viacom. The data provided came from publicly available, non-identifiable information.


Appendix 1

Table 1 Codes for young women’s dilemmas

Appendix 2

Table 2 Types of inducement codes

Appendix 3

Table 3 Codes for available tactics

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Thomas, S.E. “What Should I Do?”: Young Women’s Reported Dilemmas with Nude Photographs. Sex Res Soc Policy 15, 192–207 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-017-0310-0

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  • Adolescence
  • Sexting
  • Dating violence
  • Gender
  • Digital media
  • Relationships