From Media Abstinence to Media Production: Sexting, Young People and Education

  • Kath Albury
  • Amy Adele Hasinoff
  • Theresa Senft


‘Safe Sexting: There’s No Such Thing’. Or so says a 2009 information brochure produced by the New South Wales (Australia) Department of Education. Just as decades of research demonstrates that abstinence-only sex education is at best ineffective and at worst results in negative health outcomes (Alford 2007), there is no reason to suspect that policies and pedagogies that focus on sexting abstinence will be any more effective. But what are the alternatives? This chapter draws on recent research and pedagogical practice to move away from ‘just say no’ approaches to sexting and toward a contextualized understanding of young people’s media practices. The authors draw on recent research on representations of sexting in mass media, educational campaigns, and the law (Hasinoff 2015); empirical research seeking young people’s responses to ‘sext education’ (Albury et al. 2013); and new media pedagogies (Senft et al. 2014a) to recommend alternative approaches to shame and fear-based sexting education. Throughout, we maintain that an educator’s goal should not be to eliminate sexting practices, but instead to teach young people to promote the same affirmative consent standard for picture sharing that they would for other forms of sexual behavior. In the pages that follow, we offer some new pedagogical practices for teaching these principles, based on student-image production exercises and case study assignments, and drawing on research traditions such as photovoice.


  1. Albury, K. (2013). Young people, media and sexual learning: Rethinking representation. Sex Education, 13(1), S32–S44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Albury, K. (2015). Selfies, sexts and sneaky hats: Young people’s understandings of gendered practices of self-representation. International Journal of Communication.
  3. Albury, K. (in press). Sexting, selfies and schooling: Technologies, sexualities and relationships in educational spaces. In K. Browne & G. Brown (Eds.), Ashgate research companion to geographies of sex and sexualities. London: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  4. Albury, K., & Byron, P. (2014). Queering sexting and sexualisation. Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture and Policy, 138, 138–147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Albury, K., & Crawford, K. (2012). Sexting, consent and young people’s ethics: Beyond Megan’s story. Continuum, 26(3), 463–473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Albury, K., Crawford, K., Byron, P., & Mathews, B. (2013, April). Young people and sexting in Australia: Ethics, representation and the law. ARC Centre for Creative Industries and Innovation/Journalism and Media Research Centre, The University of New South Wales.Google Scholar
  7. Alford, S. (2007, May 6). Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs: Ineffective, unethical, and poor public health. Advocates for Youth. Retrieved from
  8. Allen, L. (2009). Snapped: Researching the sexual cultures of schools using visual methods. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 22(5), 549–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Allen, L. (2011). Picture this: Using photo-methods in research on sexualities and schooling. Qualitative Research, 11(5), 487–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Allen, L. (2015). Sexual assemblages: Mobile phones/young people/school. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36(1), 120–132.Google Scholar
  11. American Association of University Women. (2001). Hostile hallways: Bullying, teasing, and sexual harassment in school. Washington, DC: American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.Google Scholar
  12. Boyd, D. (2014). It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Buckingham, D., & Sefton-Green, J. (1994). Cultural studies goes to school: Reading and teaching popular media. London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  14. Byron, P., Albury, K., & Evers, C. (2013). It would be weird to have that on Facebook: Young people’s use of social media and the risk of sharing sexual health information. Reproductive Health Matters, 21(41), 35–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Carmody, M. (2005). Ethical erotics: Reconceptualizing anti-rape education. Sexualities, 8(4), 465–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cox Communications. (2009). Teen online & wireless safety survey: Cyberbullying, sexting, and parental controls. Retrieved from
  17. Döring, N. (2000). Feminist views of cybersex: Victimization, liberation, and empowerment. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3(5), 863–884.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 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:10.5817/CP2014-1-9.Google Scholar
  19. Drake, J. A., Price, J. H., Maziarz, L., & Ward, B. (2012). Prevalence and correlates of sexting behaviour in adolescents. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 7(1), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Drouin, M. (2014). Sexual coercion 2.0. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  21. Drouin, M., & Landgraff, C. (2011). Texting, sexting, and attachment in college students’ romantic relationships. Computers in Human Behaviour, 28(2), 444–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Drouin, M., & Tobin, E. (2014). Unwanted but consensual sexting among young adults: Relations with attachment and sexual motivations. Computers in Human Behaviour, 31, 412–418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Englander, E. (2012). Low risk associated with most teenage sexting: A study of 617 18-Year-Olds. Bridgewater: Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center. Retrieved from
  24. Gatti, J. (2009). The MTV-associated press poll digital abuse study. Menlo Park. Retrieved from
  25. Gray, M. L. (2009). Out in the country: Youth, media, and queer visibility in rural America. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
  26. Hartzog, W., & Selinger, E. (2014, September 10). Why smart phones should help us avoid selfie sabotage. Forbes. Retrieved from
  27. Hasinoff, A. A. (2015). Sexting panic: Rethinking criminalization, privacy, and consent. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  28. Hasinoff, A. A., & Shepherd, T. (2014). Sexting in context: Privacy norms and expectations. International Journal of Communication, 8, 2932–2955.Google Scholar
  29. Hillier, L., & Harrison, L. (2007). Building realities less limited than their own: Young people practising same-sex attraction on the Internet. Sexualities, 10(1), 82–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Isaac, M (2014) Nude Photos of Jennifer Lawrence are Latest Front in Online Privacy Debate. New York Times. 2 September, Retrieved from:
  31. Isaac, M. (2014, September 2). Nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence are latest front in online privacy debate. New York Times. Retrieved from
  32. Ito, M., Herr-Stephenson, B., Perkel, D., & Sims, C. (2009). Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out: Kids living and learning with new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  33. Livingstone, S., & Smith, P. K. (2014). Annual research review: Harms experienced by child users of online and mobile technologies: The nature, prevalence and management of sexual and aggressive risks in the digital age. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55(6), 635–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Manjoo, F. (2014, September 5). Taking a naked selfie? Your phone should step in to protect you. New York Times. Retrieved from
  35. Marwick, A., & Boyd, D. (2014). Networked privacy: How teenagers negotiate context in social media. New Media and Society, 16(7), 1051–1067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Marwick, A. E., Murgia-Diaz, D., & Palfrey, J. G. (2010, March 29). Youth, privacy and reputation. (Literature Review) Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2010-5. Retrieved from
  37. Mitchell, K. J., Finkelhor, D., Jones, L. M., & Wolak, J. (2012). Prevalence and characteristics of youth sexting: A national study. Pediatrics, 129(1), 1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Parker, J. (2010). Teaching tech-savvy kids: Bringing digital media into the classroom, Grades 5–12. Thousand Oaks: Corwin/SAGE.Google Scholar
  39. Pascoe, C. J. (2011). Resource and risk: Youth sexuality and new media use. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 8(1), 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Powell, A. (2010). Configuring consent: Emerging technologies, unauthorized sexual images and sexual assault. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 43(1), 76–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Ringrose, J., Gill, R., Livingstone, S., & Harvey, L. (2012). A qualitative study of children, young people and ‘sexting’: A report prepared for the NSPCC. London: National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.Google Scholar
  42. Schreier, J. (2011, April 26). PlayStation network hack leaves credit card info atrRisk. Wired. Retrieved from
  43. Selby, J. (2014, September 1). Ricky Gervais backtracks after ‘victim blaming’ tweet on 4Chan nude celebrity photo leaks. The Independent. Retrieved from
  44. Senft, T., Walker Rettberg, J., Losh, E., Albury, K., Gajjala, R., David, G., Marwick, A., Abidin, C., Olszanowski, M., Aziz, F., Warfield, K., & Mottahedeh, N. (2014a). Introduction and guidelines. Studying selfies: A critical approach. Retrieved from
  45. Senft, T., Walker Rettberg, J., Losh, E., Albury, K., Gajjala, R., David, G., Marwick, A., Abidin, C., Olszanowski, M., Aziz, F., Warfield, K., & Mottahedeh, N. (2014b). Identity and interpellation. Studying selfies: A critical approach. Retrieved from
  46. Senft, T., Walker Rettberg, J., Losh, E., Albury, K., Gajjala, R., David, G., Marwick, A., Abidin, C., Olszanowski, M., Aziz, F., Warfield, K., & Mottahedeh, N. (2014c). Sexuality, dating and gender. Studying selfies: critical approach. Retrieved from
  47. Sex and Tech: Results from a survey of teens and young adults. (2008). The national campaign to prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy. Retrieved from
  48. Strassberg, D., McKinnon, R., Sustaita, M., & Rullo, J. (2013). Sexting by high school students: An exploratory and descriptive study. Archives of Sexual Behaviour, 42, 15–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Suarez, E., & Gadalla, T. M. (2010). Stop blaming the victim: A meta-analysis on rape myths. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 25(11), 2010–2035.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Suler, J. (2005). The online disinhibition effect. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, 2(2), 184–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tallon, K., Choi, A., Keeley, M., Elliott, J., & Maher, D. (2012, November). New voices/new laws: School-age young people in New South Wales speak out about the criminal laws that apply to their online behaviour. Sydney: National Children’s and Youth Law Centre and Legal Aid NSW. Retrieved from…/New-Voices-Law-Reform-Report.pdf
  52. The body is not an apology. (2015). Retrieved from
  53. Tolman, D. L. (1994). Doing desire: Adolescent girls’ struggles for/with sexuality. Gender & Society, 8(3), 324–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Tolman, D. L. (2005). Dilemmas of desire: Teenage girls talk about sexuality. Boston: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Wang, C., & Burris, M. A. (1997). Photovoice: Concept, methodology, and use for participatory needs assessment. Health Education & Behaviour, 24(3), 369–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited.

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kath Albury
    • 1
  • Amy Adele Hasinoff
    • 2
  • Theresa Senft
    • 3
  1. 1.School of the Arts and MediaUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Department of CommunicationUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA
  3. 3.Liberal StudiesNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations